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St. Thomas of Canterbury 



ALEXANDER THE GREAT: a Dramatic Poem. 

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THE INFANT BRIDAL, and other Poems. A New 
and 'Enlarged Edition. Crown 8vo. cloth, price 75. 6d. (A 
Selection from the Author's Poems.) 


POEMS, Miscellaneous and Sacred. (Burns & Oates.) 

By the late Sir Aubrey de Vere, Bart. 

MARY TUDOR, a Drama; and Sonnets. 

(B. M. Pickering, 1876.) 







( The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved} 


MR. FREEMAN, in his remarkable essay ' St. 
Thomas of Canterbury and his Biographers,' ob- 
serves : ' If we wish fairly to judge of the right 
and the wrong between Henry and Thomas, we 
must first of all shut our eyes to all modern con- 
troversies whatever. We must not carry into that 
region any modern theories about Church and 
State, about Catholicism and Protestantism/ The 
remark applies no less to a drama on the subject 
of Becket, since it should neither be written nor 
read in a polemical spirit. What we are concerned 
with is the character of the man and the aims 
of his life. To understand either, we must bear 
in mind the principles and the main tenden- 
cies of the age in which he lived. If in recent 
times our best writers have maintained a more 


vi Preface. 

impartial estimate of that great man than had for 
some time been common, the change is due, not to 
any theological bias in his favour, but to a more 
accurate acquaintance with the facts and the 
philosophy of history. I shall endeavour to illus- 
trate, rather in their language than my own, a few 
of the chief characteristics of Becket's time that 
throw a light upon the memorable career which I 
have ventured to dramatise. 

The age of Becket, like the preceding age, 
was one of innovations ; and those innovations 
had tended to the establishment of a rule more 
despotic than the Saxon. The Conqueror had 
combined arbitrary sway with much of justice 
and wisdom in detail. In the days of Rufus the 
despotic instinct showed itself in a series of ruthless 
enterprises, both against civil rights and the property 
as well as freedom of the Church. Henry Beau- 
clerk had waged against the Church a war of policy ; 
but he had met an opponent, his equal both in 
wisdom and perseverance ; and in his chief designs 
he was worsted. His grandson revered his memory, 
and renewed a battle which had in a large measure 
fallen into abeyance during the troubled reign of 

Preface. vii 

Stephen. The despotic power which he had in- 
herited he endeavoured to consolidate through the 
sanctions of law law enacted practically by the 
will of the sovereign, and the execution of which 
remained chiefly in his hands. All that his pre- 
decessors had done he regarded as but the foun- 
dation on which he was to raise a complete edifice 
of social order, but also of imperial rule. 

The Conquest eventually bequeathed to 
England many blessings ; but it began by reducing 
the mass of her native race to a condition almost 
of slavery. The liberties of the native Church 
shared in the general depression, and that Church 
was drawn all the closer to the affections of the 
people by the common wrong. It was impossible 
for the Saxon serf to remember the old Saxon laws, 
still recognised in theory, without feeling that, so 
far as they survived in power, they were to him 
represented by that English Church which in his 
fallen fortunes had never forsaken him. At its 
utmost need the rights of that Church had found 
their bravest assertor in one of those foreign 
prelates set over it by a king of the conquering 
race ; and the reviving pulses of a people, destined 

viii Preface. 

to be free, had beaten in sympathy with him. It 
is thus that an eminent writer illustrates that 
momentous period, in a history which is especially 
a History of the English People: 

' The Conquest, as we have seen, had robbed the 
Church of all moral power as the representative of 
the higher national interests against a brutal des- 
potism, by placing it in a position of mere depend- 
ence on the Crown ; and yet, though the struggle 
between William [Rufus] and the Archbishop turned 
for the most part on points which have no direct 
bearing on our history, the boldness of Anselm's atti- 
tude not only broke the tradition of ecclesiastical 
servitude, but infused through the nation at large 
a new spirit of independence.' l Again he remarks, 
passing on to the next reign : ' The moral revolu- 
tion, which events like this indicate, was backed by 
a religious revival, which forms a marked feature 
in the reign of Henry I. Pious, learned, and 
energetic as the bishops of William's [the Con- 
queror's] appointment had been, they were not 
Englishmen. Till Becket's time no Englishman 
occupied the throne of Canterbury.' . . . 'Lanfranc 

1 ' Short History of the English People,' by J. R. Green, p. 86. 

Preface. ix 

indeed exercised a great personal influence over 
William ; but Anselm stood alone against Rufus ; 
and no voice of ecclesiastical freedom broke the 
simoniac silence of the reign of Henry I.' He pro- 
ceeds to show the degree in v/hich England owed 
the progress of her Constitution to the great pre- 
lates who vindicated the freedom of her Church : 

' . . . . We see the strength of the new move- 
ment in the new class of ecclesiastics that it forces 
on the stage ; men like Anselm or John of Salis- 
bury, or the two great prelates who followed one 
another after Henry's death in the see of Canter- 
bury, Theobald and Thomas, derived whatever 
might they possessed from sheer holiness of life 
and unselfishness of aim. The revival left its 
stamp on the fabric of the Constitution itself ; the 
paralysis of the Church ceased as the new impulse 
bound the prelacy and people together; and its 
action, when at the end of Henry's reign it started 
into a power strong enough to save England from 
anarchy, has been felt in our history ever since.' 1 

Yet it was against these men that the Norman 
sovereigns had warred, and their aggression against 

1 * Short History of the English People,' by J. R. Green, p. 92. 

x Preface. 

the religious liberties of England was consummated 
by the far more advanced and systematic scheme 
of kingly power devised by Henry Plantagenet. He 
worked largely through Councils which he overawed; 
but his aims were far from being merely selfish. 
Of all the Plantagenet kings he was the greatest 
except Edward I. He was a man of wide know- 
ledge and boundless energy; less vindictive than 
fierce in anger ; frugal, and yet often generous. He 
was fond of raising up new men, and in a large 
degree he governed through them ; yet, while he 
looked with jealousy on the great nobles, he 
knew how to attach them. In countless matters 
of detail he was a true reformer : he desired to sub- 
stitute for social confusion a reign of law, on condi- 
tion only that that law should be made practically 
by himself, and never stand in the way of royal 
power ; and, like his grandfather, he pursued the 
policy of abolishing distinctions between the 
Norman conquerors and the native English. But 
he had also grievous defects. His religion was 
scant, and rather superstitious than practical. He 
was immoral ; he was insincere ; and though his 
courage and wonderful swiftness of action gave him 

Preface. xi 

the promise of magnificent successes, his extreme 
caution, as well as the distractions occasioned 
first by religious and next by domestic feuds, left 
his enterprises incomplete. Henry II. had a con- 
sistent ideal of policy which, to him, approved itself 
as one fit to advance the greatness of his empire as 
well as of its ruler ; but to suppose that he had 
taken his stand on the ancient ways, and found 
himself assailed by novel ecclesiastical pretensions, 
is a reverse reading of historic facts. As well might 
we imagine that his aspiration was to transfer to the 
people the powers which he desired to take from 
the clergy and the Baronage. Let us listen to Mr. 
Green again : 

'Henry II. had even less reverence for the feu- 
dal past than the men of his day ; he was indeed 
utterly without the imagination and reverence 
which enable men to sympathise with any past at 
all. He had a practical man's impatience of the 
obstacles thrown in the way of his reforms by the 
older constitution of his realm, nor could he under- 
stand other men's reluctance to purchase undoubted 
improvements by the sacrifice of customs and 
traditions of bygone days. Without any theore- 

xii Preface. 

tical hostility to the co-ordinate powers of the 
State, it seemed to him a perfectly reasonable 
and natural course to trample either Baronage or 
Church under foot to gain his end of good govern- 
ment. He saw clearly that the remedy for such 
anarchy as England had endured under Stephen 
lay in the establishment of a kingly government 
unembarrassed by any privileges of order or class, 
administered by royal servants, and in whose public 
administration the nobles acted simply as delegates 
of the sovereign. His work was to lie in the or- 
ganisation of judicial and administrative forms 
which realised the idea ; but of the great currents 
of thought and feeling which were tending in the 
same direction he knew nothing. What he did for 
the great moral and social revolution of his time 
was simply to let it alone. Religion grew more 
and more identified with patriotism under the eyes 
of a king who whispered, and scribbled, and looked 
at picture-books during mass, who never confessed, 
and cursed God in wild frenzies of blasphemy. . . .' 1 
Henry's ' reign of law' was, and could but be, the 
old imperial dream ; and, as Mr. Green remarks, 

1 'Short History &c.,' p. 101. 

Preface. xiii 

' Great peoples formed themselves on both sides of 
the sea round a sovereign who bent the whole force 
of his mind to hold together an empire which the 
growth of nationality must inevitably destroy. There 
is throughout a tragic grandeur in the irony of 
Henry's position ; that of a Sforza of the fifteenth 
century set in the midst of the twelfth, building 
up by patience, and policy, and craft a composite 
dominion, alien to the deepest sympathies of his 
age, and swept away in the end by popular forces 
to whose existence his very cleverness and activity 
blinded him.' l Such a policy might heal some 
old wounds in England; but it must inflict new 
and deeper. To meet the trials thus engendered 
there rose up a Becket. It is thus that a high 
historical authority speaks : ' With the acces- 
sion of the Angevin dynasty the purely Norman 
period comes to an end. Norman and Englishman 
alike have to struggle for their own against the 
perpetual intrusion of fresh shoals of foreigners, a 
process almost equivalent to a second conquest. 
The natural effect of this struggle was that Norman 
and Englishman forgot their differences, and united 
in resistance to the common enemy. Under the 

1 ' Short History &c.,' p. 102. 

xiv Preface. 

great Henry, the ruler and lawgiver of this second 
conquest, the struggle is for a while delayed, or 
veils itself under an ecclesiastical form. A prelate 
of English birth, but of the purest Norman descent, 
wins the love of the English people in a struggle in 
which nothing but an unerring instinct could have 
shown them that their interest was in any way 
involved.' * 

But this struggle was neither exclusively eccle- 
siastic nor begun by Becket. It was forced upon 
him. It was the instinct of ' Csesarism ' which 
drove Henry upon his design to suppress the 
liberties of the Church in the several states that 
composed his empire. A despotism both of law 
and of the sword could alone thoroughly unite 
them. Probably he intended that it should be a 
just despotism ; but the just despot is followed by 
the unjust one. 2 

1 * History of the Norman Conquest of England,' by E. A. 
Freeman, introduction, p. 5. 

2 Henry's imperial dream necessarily required the reduction 
of the Baronage as well as of the freedom of the Church the two 
powers which, balancing that of the Crown, produced, in the form 
of equipoise, such an approach to freedom as was in those ages pos- 
sible, the popular elements of power as yet not existing, save in 
their rudiments. Henry's proceedings against the Barons are thus 
referred to by Mr. Green : * The close of the great struggle [that 
with Becket] left Henry free to complete his great work of legal 

Preface. xv 

That the cause of true civilisation was sustained, 
not impeded, by Becket and the other great prelates 
so often represented as forgers of chains, has been 
shown by those writers who differed from them fun- 
damentally in their theological belief, such as Guizot 
and Lord Macaulay ; the latter well observes : 

' It is remarkable that the two greatest and 
most salutary social revolutions which have taken 
place in England, that revolution which in the 
thirteenth century put an end to the tyranny of 
nation over nation, and that revolution which, a 
few generations later, put an end to the property 

reform. He had already availed himself of the expedition against 
Toulouse to deliver a crushing blow at the Baronage by the com- 
mutation of their personal services in the field for a money payment, 
a "scutage," or ' ' shield-money, " for each fief. The king thus 
became master of resources which enabled him to dispense with the 
military support of his tenants, and to maintain a force of mercenary 
soldiers in their place. The diminution of the military power of the 
nobles had been accompanied by measures which robbed them of 
their legal jurisdiction. The circuits of the judges were restored, 
and instructions were given them to enter the manors of the Barons, 
and make enquiry into their privileges ; while the orifice of sheriff 
was withdrawn from the great nobles of the shire, and entrusted to 
the lawyers and courtiers who already furnished the staff of justices. 
The resentment of the Barons found an opportunity of displaying 
itself when the king's eldest son, whose coronation had played so 
great a part in the history of Archbishop Thomas, suddenly took 
refuge with the King of France, and demanded to be put into pos- 
session of his English realm' (p. 105). 

xvi Preface. 

of man in man, were silently and imperceptibly 
effected. ... It would be unjust not to acknow- 
ledge that the chief agent in the two great deliver- 
ances was religion ; and it may perhaps be 
doubted whether a purer religion might not have 
been found a less efficient agent. . . . The first 
protector whom the English found among the 
dominant class was Archbishop Anselm. ... It 
was a national as well as a religious feeling that 
drew great multitudes to the shrine of Becket, the 
first Englishman who, since the Conquest, had 
been terrible to the foreign tyrants. A successor 
of Becket was foremost among those who obtained 
that charter which secured at once the privileges 
of the Norman barons and of the Saxon yeomanry. 
How great a part the Roman Catholic ecclesiastics 
subsequently had in the abolition of villenage we 
learn from the unexceptionable testimony of Sir 
Thomas Smith, one of the ablest Protestant coun- 
sellors of Elizabeth. When the dying slaveholder 
asked for the last sacraments, his spiritual atten- 
dants regularly adjured him, as he loved his soul, to 
emancipate his brethren for whom Christ had died.' 1 

1 Macaulay's ' History of England,' chap.-i. 

Preface. xvii 

It was not unnatural then that the people 
should have regarded the ' Liberties of the Church ' 
with pride and with love, or that kings who had in- 
herited arbitrary rule should desire to undermine 
them. Henry's war against them began with the as- 
sertion, in a new and more stringent form, of those 
' Royal Customs ' which, to the modern imagination, 
have often presented the image of something 
venerable, while they were but new Customs op- 
posed to ancient laws. Some were wholly novel, 
while others were those innovations by which the 
Conqueror and his two sons had partially set aside 
both the laws of England and also her authentic 
and immemorial customs. King Henry's Royal 
Customs were embodied in the ' Constitutions of 
Clarendon.' Of them Mr. Green ' remarks : 
' Many of its clauses were simply a re-enactment 
of the system established by the Conqueror/ 
After specifying five belonging to this category, 
he proceeds : ' But the legislation respecting eccle- 
siastical jurisdiction was wholly new! l 

Professor Stubbs, who is not in sympathy with 
Becket, makes the same admission: ' While some of 

1 Green's ' Short History of the English People,' p. 103. 

xviii Preface. 

the " Constitutions " only state in legal form the 
customs which had been adopted by the Conqueror 
and his sons, others of them seem to be develop- 
ments or expansions of such customs, in forms and 
with applications that belong to a much more 
advanced state of the law/ l The best of those 
' Constitutions ' were then innovations made by 
three despotic kings ; for Professor Stubbs describes 
th e Norman monarchy as practically a despotism 
which had ' discarded the limitations ' both of the 
French and the English sovereignty ; and he tells 
us that the councils of the Norman kings were 
assemblies so servile that they ' may seem scarcely 
entitled to the name of a national council.' 2 The 
remaining ' Constitutions ' Becket could only have 
regarded as ' developments ' of customs evil and 
new. At the Council of Westminster a far more 
moderate demand had been made ; but on it Pro- 
fessor Stubbs remarks :- ' The Archbishop saw that 
to concede this unreservedly would be to place the 
whole of the clergy at the king's mercy.' 3 Surely 
then, whatever view may be taken of the ' Consti- 

1 * Constitutional History,' vol. i. p. 465. 
2 Ibid. p. 358. 3 Ibid. p. 464. 

Preface. xix 

tutions, there can be little doubt as to the motives 
and aims of Becket. 

As to the character of the ' Royal Customs/ 
in their new form, we have an unexceptionable 
witness, the Empress Matilda. It is thus that 
Nicolas of Rouen writes : ' John of Oxford, who, 
on his way from England to the Court [i.e. Rome], 
and on his return, paid a visit to the Empress, 
endeavoured to exasperate her against you by 
every malicious insinuation possible. . . . The 
day following she excluded everyone from her 
presence, and ordered us to read to her in Latin [the 
'Constitutions' embodying the 'Royal Customs'] 
and make our comments in French. The woman 
is from a stock of tyrants, and approved some of 
them, particularly that which forbids the excommu- 
nication of the king's servants without his permis- 
sion. . . . With far the greater number she found 
fault ; and what offended her, above all, was their 
being reduced to writing, as well as the attempt 
to exact from the bishops a promise of their 
observance; "for this," she said, "was without 
precedent.'" 1 

1 Hurrell Froude's 'History of the Struggle,' c. p. 134. 
a 2 

xx Preface. 

We must bear in mind, while forming our judg- 
ment on Becket's conduct, that Matilda's estimate 
of the so-called Royal Customs was his in a yet 
stronger sense. In a letter to his suffragan 
bishops he describes them as l not those Customs, 
but rather those corruptions, by which at the pre- 
sent time the Church of England is disturbed, and 
put to confusion.' Apart from the authority of 
the ancient Saxon laws, 1 ' they were, many of 
them, contrary to the known charters of the land 
given by Norman kings to the Church, and con- 
trary to the received maxims of the general 
canons.' Dr. Lingard, in his analysis of the 
' Constitutions of Clarendon,' points out that the 
first of them * could not claim higher antiquity 
than William Rufus,' and that it had been 're- 
nounced after his death by all his successors, by 
Henry L, by Stephen, and lastly by the present 
king himself.' 2 Of the second, he says that it ' was 
most certainly an innovation on ancient custom. 
It overturned the law, as it had invariably stood 
from the days of the Conqueror, and did not re- 

1 Mr. Berington's 'History of Henry II.,' vol. i. p. 104. 
2 'History of England, 'pp. 66-68. Edit. 1854. 

Preface. xxi 

store the judicial process of the Anglo-Saxon 
dynasty.' The third and fourth he shows to have 
been innovations introduced by the Conqueror ; 
while the fifth found its precedent in the reign of 
Henry I., and had eventually to be explained 
away, so far as its more stringent application was 
concerned. 1 

1 There are still those who imagine that all Henry's acts which 
claimed to vindicate the interests of law were of course themselves 
legal acts. Hume speaks thus of Clarendon: ' The Barons were all 
gained to the king's party either by the reasons which he urged, or 
by his superior authority, the Bishops were overawed by the general 
combination against them' (vol. ii. p. 32). That the Council of 
Northampton was no less* overborne by the royal power he also 
says. After stating that the prosecution of Becket had proceeded 
from the king's disappointment and rage at the part the primate 
had taken against him, and that in his ' violent prosecution ' there 
'entered more of passion than of justice, or even of policy,' he 
proceeds : * The Barons, notwithstanding, in the great Council 
voted whatever sentence he was pleased to dictate to them ; and the 
bishops themselves, who undoubtedly bore a secret favour to Becket, 
and regarded him as the champion of their privileges, concurred 
with the rest in the design of oppressing their primate ' (p. 38). Of 
Henry's subsequent proceedings he remarks: 'These were edicts 
of the greatest importance, affected the lives and properties of all 
the subjects, and even changed for the time the national religion by 
breaking off all communication with Rome ; yet were they enacted 
by the sole authority of the king, and were derived entirely from 
his will and pleasure' (p. 48). Hume proceeds: 'Principle, 
therefore, stood on the one side, power on the other ; and if the 
English had been actuated by conscience more than by present 

xxii Preface. 

It is to be remembered that the ' Royal Cus- 
toms ' of the Norman kings, opposed as they were, 
both in letter and yet more in spirit, to the ancient 
laws of the land, yet never affected to abrogate 
them. Those sovereigns had frequently guaranteed 
the old laws, and could not afford such an admission 
as that their new Customs were inconsistent with 
them. The laws and the Customs made up con- 
jointly a heterogeneous system. Henry's way of 
introducing harmony into it was that of changing 
the Royal Customs into laws. The earlier laws, 
where opposed to the later, would thus have been 
indirectly superseded, and with them that large 
portion of the law of the Church which had for so 
long a time been recognised by the laws of the 
land, and to which Becket had referred when 
he declared that, for him to accept the eighth 
' Constitution,' would be an act of perjury, since, on 
receiving the pallium, he had sworn to maintain 

interest, the controversy must soon, by the general defection of 
Henry's subjects, have been decided against him.' 

A crowd of similar admissions might be quoted from autho- 
rities favourable to Henry, like Hume. Surely, then, it is neither 
generous nor just to attribute to faction Becket's hostility to 
changes thus worked. 

Preface. xxiii 

' Appeals to the Holy See.' The jurisprudence of 
ages was thus to vanish in a moment. Alfred and 
Edward the Confessor were to be forgotten ; and 
England was henceforth to date her moral and 
political existence from the Conqueror. Had this 
enterprise succeeded, the England we have known 
could never have existed. 

On the character of Henry's Church policy Mr. 
Hurrell Froude makes a remark similar to Hume's. 
1 It was one,' he says, ' which, if adopted, would have 
placed the relations of Church and State on a foot- 
ing not very different from that which was arranged 
four hundred years after under Henry VIII.' 
Those who approve most the revolution of the 
sixteenth century would disclaim the belief that, 
in the twelfth century, when no man in England 
dreamed of making private judgment his rule 
of faith, it would have been either just or wise to 
substitute the civil authority in religion for the 
spiritual. They would probably think that a 
change which stamped out all spiritual liberty, and 
reduced religion to formality, must destroy alike 
the moral life of the present and the hopes of the 
future. At all events, thus to change a nation's 

xxiv Preface. 

religion ' over its head ' by the will of a king would 
have been an innovation ; and to resist such a 
procedure was simply to resist innovation. 

From the first the ' Royal Customs ' had consti- 
tuted an aggression, and as such had often been 
withstood ; but that aggression, when Henry began 
his war upon the liberties of the Church, assumed 
a character wholly new. This resulted from two 
important circumstances, ist. Till that time those 
Customs had been fragmentary things ; it was now 
proposed to add to them whatever was necessary 
for their completeness, and organise them into one 
great, harmonious whole. In the second place., 
concessions, when made to the Customs, had 
in past times not been made as of right. The 
principle at issue had never been conceded. It was 
to be conceded now, and that with the consent of 
the clergy. It was demanded of Becket, 'Why 
cannot you do what you admit was sometimes 
done by your predecessors ? '. His reply was that 
some of these had indeed conceded more than was 
right ; but that of none, except St Anselm, had 
that demand been made which was made of him. 
He was not urged to waive, on occasion, some 

Preface. xxv 

immemorial right : he was commanded to ac- 
knowledge that the Church possessed no such 
right that from the first it had been an imposture. 
Becket was one of those who held the royal autho- 
rity very high ; and to a just king he would gladly 
have conceded whatever did not endanger religion. 
In condemning the ' Constitution ' that no bishop 
should leave the kingdom without the king's license, 
he had affirmed that it was right to apply for the 
king's leave before their departure, but that to bind 
themselves by an oath to do so always was wrong. 
The Pope also said that six of the Customs, 
although objectionable, yet might be conceded. 
But a compromise would not have suited Henry. 
The Church, retaining its ancient faith, was to 
become a simple function of the State. It was 
conscience which required a faithful Churchman to 
resist that revolution. It may be urged that faith 
was not directly at issue. The same defence 
might be made for an arbitrary change which 
forced the celibacy of the clergy on a Protestant, 
or Episcopacy on a Presbyterian community. 

It was a question of the English Constitution as 
well as of religion. Before the days of Clarendon 

xxvi Preface. 

a Council had sat at Westminster, and this matter 
had then been brought to issue. ' He [Henry] re- 
quired a promise that they [the bishops] would in all 
things observe his Royal Customs. After consulta- 
tion, St. Thomas answered that he and his brethren 
would do so, saving their Order. The king, en- 
raged at the condition, put the same question to 
the other bishops, and received the same answer 
from all, except Hilary of Chichester. ... St. 
Thomas pleaded that in his oath of fealty he had 
sworn to give him " earthly honour, saving his 
Order" and that in the term " earthly honour " the 
Royal Customs were included ; that the condition 
" saving his Order " was universal throughout Chris- 
tendom, and that he would not depart from it.' l 
The king would hear of no exception : it was 
inconsistent with his idea of monarchy that any 
great estate within his realm should thus be re- 
garded as of old that is, as an independent order 
possessing inherent rights, and bound to defend 
and transmit them. A corresponding attempt to 
exclude from the oath of fealty taken by his Barons 
the limitation ' saving their Order ' would at once 

1 Canon Morris, 'Hist.,' p. 97. 

Preface. xxvii 

have been regarded by them as an attempt to 
enslave them. 

Nearly at the close of Becket's career the same 
question arose once more. At that last great crisis, 
the meeting of the two kings at Montmirail, ' St. 
Thomas had proposed to substitute for the phrase 
" saving his Order " a reservation less likely to give 
umbrage to pride, viz. " saving God's honour." ' The 
king refused the concession. The ' rights of con- 
science ' seemed to him as dangerous as the rights 
of an Order. l St. Thomas reminded the king that 
the oath of fidelity contained the clause " saving 
my Order," on which he rose in anger, and with- 
drew.' ' 

There was another oath besides that of fealty 
which stood in Henry's way the coronation oath. 
In taking that oath the sovereign swore to main- 
tain the ' liberty of the Church.' At that time 
no doubt existed as to the quarter from which 
the Church might fear an aggression on her liberty. 
The king had his own way of meeting the diffi- 
culty. When he crowned his son, that clause in 
the coronation oath was omitted ; and an opposite 

1 Canon Morris, 'Hist.,' pp. 245-7. 

xxviii Preface. 

engagement was contracted.' * It is only when we 
take these things fairly into account, that we can 
understand the career of Becket. 

His character was one admirably suited to 
the struggle which he had to sustain. We find in 
it the warrior's ' plain heroic magnitude of mind,' 
with the guilelessness of the child. In youth he had 
an undue love of worldly splendour, although his 
moral purity had ever remained unstained ; and 
he condemned that error openly at a later time, 
as he publicly did penance for what he considered 
a great sin the promise which, under extraordinary 
pressure, and deceived by extraordinary frauds, 
he had made at Clarendon. 2 He was impetuous in 

1 This change in the coronation oath is denied by some. It was 
affirmed by Becket in his letters, and by the Pope in his sentence on 
the officiating Bishops. An old historian wholly on Henry's side 
characterises the act as 'not more temerarious than unfortunate,' but 
remarks that * it was done in contempt of Becket,' and 'with some 
advantage also towards the perpetuation of the Avital Customs, and 
that also without scruple of conscience, his son, receiving the crown 
without caution to preserve the Church's liberty, either by him put 
in, or by others exacted : yea, rather an oath ministered, and by the 
young king taken, to maintain those Avital Customs to the utter- 
most ' (Speed's 'History of Great Britain,' edit. 1632, p. 493). 

2 Lord Lyttelton states, in his ' History of Henry II.,' that 
when Becket, before the meeting of the Council at Clarendon, was 

Preface. xxix 

temper, but he was humble also, and required his 
dependants to address him with the same entire 
frankness which he himself used with all, from the 
lowest to the highest. He was, though a firm de- 
fender of the Church's rights when assailed, by no 
means a one-sided man. The fanatics of his day 
called him secular in his views. In his estimate 
the State stood at a height immeasurably more 
exalted than that commonly claimed for it in our 
days : but there is a comparative as well as an 
absolute greatness ; and he believed also that that 
Christian religion which raises the nations, must 
ever itself remain, for their sake, as well as from 
inherent necessity, exempt from their control. 
Above all, Becket was a man of passionate and 
constant affections. He never ceased to love the 
king, and Mr. Freeman maintains that the king 
too remembered old friendship. Occasionally, at 
least, he did so ; and perhaps that affection returned 

determined to resist the Royal Customs, the Papal Almoner ' pre- 
tended he had orders from his Holiness to persuade him to obey the 
will of the king ; in which, I imagine, he went beyond his com- 
mission. . . . Probably the Almoner was gained by the king, who 
often negotiated more successfully with the Pope's ministers than he 
could with the Pope, and would doubtless exert, on this occasion, 
his utmost liberality. ' 

xxx Preface. 

to him in power after Becket's death, and prompted 
his repeated visits to the martyr's grave. Mr. 
Freeman remarks : ' Henry, there can be little 
doubt, was kept up to his opposition by men who 
hated Thomas far more than he did. 1 The bishops, 
even the better ones, for the most part disliked him, 
from their natural repugnance to see a man of his 
early life and conversation so strangely exalted 
over their heads. Ruffians like the De Brocs were 
actuated by the motives common to men of their 
stamp in all ages. The higher and better class of 
the laity, men like the Earls of Arundel and 
Leicester, oppose Thomas with deep sorrow.' 
What follows is also full of discernment : 'His great 
qualities were an ardent and impetuous spirit, a 
practical energy which carried everything before 
him, an admirable versatility which could adapt 
itself to all circumstances and all people, and a 
lofty sense of duty which could support him under 
any amount of adversity and disappointment. His 

1 Though several of Becket's contemporaries affirmed that 
Henry had planned the murder of Becket, we should, I think, 
attribute this impression to the excited state of their feelings. There 
seems nothing to justify the belief that either the king or John of 
Oxford could have lent himself to such a crime. 

Preface. xxxi 

faults were chiefly an exaggeration of his virtues. 
His impetuosity often grew into needless and 
injudicious violence; his strong will continually 
degenerated into obstinacy. . . . Duplicity, con- 
scious bad faith, were utterly alien to his nature.' 
This testimony to Becket's absolute honesty 
concurs with that generally given by writers the most 
opposed to him. An exception is to be found 
in Lord Lyttelton, who was led astray by the 
credulous reliance he placed on a document at 
variance, as he admits, with all other testimony, 
ancient or modern, and bearing the name of Becket's 
great enemy, Gilbert Foliot. 1 I have referred to 
this charge at the end of the volume. 2 

1 Mr. Hurrell Froude thus describes Gilbert Foliot : * ' Gilbert 
Foliot, it seems, though wrapped in a hair shirt, and reposing on a 
bed of straw, felt the charms of home as strongly, and was as little 
disposed to sacrifice peace for principle, as though he had been 
spell-bound amid the softer enchantments of domestic blessedness. 
Few as were the charms which earth possessed for him, yet those 
few could place him within the power of circumstances, and under- 
mint the independence of his character. What he could have been 
deprived of was but " one morsel of bread," and yet to save that 
he sold his birthright.' John of Salisbury thus described the 

* Froude's ' Remains/ vol. ii. p. 45 (' History of the Contest/ &c.) 

2 See note in p. 257. 

xxxii Preface. 

By the English people Becket was venerated, 
we must remember, not as one who had striven to 
make a revolution, just or unjust, but as one who 
had resisted revolution. That judgment was re- 
affirmed when the claims of kings in spiritual 
matters were at their highest, and by the prelate 
who has been claimed as the chief supporter of 
those claims, Bossuet. Of Henry he speaks thus : 
' Henri second, roi d' Angleterre, se declare I'ennemi 

school to which Mr. H. Froude regards Gilbert as belonging: 
* These are the men who, if any stain have been fixed on the Church, 
whilst they are travelling abroad, discover it to the public eye, that 
they themselves may appear free from all stain. These are the 
men who persuade those in power that, on account of the faults 
of individuals, the Church should be deprived of her rights.' 
Again, he says : ' Thence it is that they exhibit paleness in their 
countenances, that they heave deep sighs from habit, that they are 
suddenly suffused with artful and ready tears ; with their head stiff, 
their eyes half shut, their hair short, their head close -shaven, their 
voice low, their lips quick from prayer.' Of Gilbert, John of Salis- 
bury says, that out of envy he had calumniated the appointment of 
Becket to the see of Canterbury ; but that, notwithstanding, when 
the bishops confirmed the election, his voice had been the loudest. 
But in John of Oxford Becket had an enemy who resorted to arts 
of which Gilbert could not have been guilty. In a conference with 
the Empress Matilda he endeavoured, as far as we can judge from 
Lord Lyttelton's statement, to poison her mind against Becket by 
assertions or insinuations too revolting to be repeated, respecting 
which that historian remarks, ' This was certainly a most unjust and 
malignant defamation of not only an innocent, but laudable act ' 
(' Hist, of Henry II.,' vol. ii. p. 490). 

Preface. xxxiii 

de 1'Eglise. II 1'attaque au spirituel et au temporel ; 
en ce qu'elle tient de Dieu, et en ce qu'elle tient des 
hommes : il usurpe ouvertement sa puissance. II 
met la main dans son tresor, qui enferme la sub- 
sistance des pauvres. II fletrit 1'honneur de ses 
ministres par 1'abrogation de leurs privileges, et 
opprime leur liberte par des lois qui lui sont con- 
traires. ... II n'y a plus que le saint archeveque 
de Cantorbery qu'il n'a pu encore ni corrompre 
par ses caresses, hi abattre par ses menaces.' 1 
Such was Henry in the judgment of this great 
assertor of the ' Regale.' With him Becket was 
' le premier martyr de la discipline.' 2 He affirms 
that, while firm in resisting wrong, he was neither 
rebellious, nor factious, nor forgetful of the king's 
interest. ' S'il a toujours songe qu'il etoit eveque, il 
n'a jamais oublie qu'il etoit sujet ; et la charite pas- 
torale animoit de telle sorte toute sa conduite, 
qu'il ne s'est oppose au pecheur que dans le 
dessin de sauver le roi.' 3 He insists that Becket 
never allowed injustice to drive him into revolt, 

1 Bossuet, * Panegyrique de St. Thomas de Cantorbery, ' vol. 
xvi. p. 586, edit. 1816. 

2 Ibid. p. 580. 3 Ibid. p. 594. 


xxxiv Preface. 

and that he conquered by his martyrdom. Such, 
he says, is the duty of the Church. It receives 
great benefits from the State, and it confers 
on the State benefits greater still. If com- 
manded to violate duty, it disobeys, but it endures. 
' La force, selon le monde, s'etent jusqu'a entre- 
prendre ; la force, selon 1'Eglise, ne va pas plus 
loin que de tout souffrir.' l 

In recent times another eminent French prelate 
has written a life of Becket 2 a prelate, like Bossuet, 
recently claimed as their especial representative by 
those attached to ' Gallican ' opinions the late 
Archbishop of Paris, murdered by the t Commune.' 
His conclusions are the same as those of Bossuet : 
' II suit de la que Thomas Becket, en s'opposant 
aux preventions d'Henri II., lutta pour la loi, le 
droit, la justice ' (p. 241). The place which he 
claims for him is that of the patriot and benefactor 
of mankind, as well as that of the Christian bishop 
a place among those ' qui ont lutte contre les 
passions de leur epoque pour le salut de le notre, 

1 Bossuet, ' Panegyrique, ' &c. , p. 599. 

2 'Saint Thomas Becket: sa Vie et ses Lettres.' Par M. G. 

Preface. xxxv 

et servi 1'Eglise pour assurer la bonheur de 1'hu- 

In looking back on the remote past, we are apt 
to contemplate things from a modern 'point of 
view,' and therefore to see them in a false perspec- 
tive, separating things essentially one, and uniting 
things dissimilar, nay opposed. The twelfth 
century, though a great age, was one in which great 
corruptions prevailed, ecclesiastical as well as 
civil ; but ecclesiastical purity, so far from being 
one with the domination claimed by Henry, was 
absolutely inconsistent with it. The great reformer 
of clerical abuses was Becket himself ; and exalted 
indeed would have been the fame of Henry if 
he had used his powers in assisting Becket to 
make reforms, not in multiplying the abuses he 
condemned, by the abuse of patronage, and by 
keeping the great sees vacant. Again, the wealth 
of the Church and her power have been often 
identified. But overgrown wealth is nearly the 
greatest calamity which can befall a Church, and 
especially the greatest source of weakness ; and if 
Henry had endeavoured by just means to prevent 

xxxvi Preface. 

its inordinate increase, he would have benefited 
religion not less than his country. In such an 
attempt would Becket have assisted him ? I know 
not ; yet there were great thinkers then living, like 
John of Salisbury, who would have done so. But 
Henry had no objection to the increase of Church 
wealth. The waters were thus collected into 
wells, to which king and baron had access. King 
Edward I., of whom Mr. Green well says, ' his con- 
ception of kingship was that of a just and religious 
Henry II.,' passed the first statute to prevent the 
indefinite accretion of ecclesiastical estates. He 
passed other laws on ecclesiastical subjects which 
have been differently regarded by critics of different 
schools ; but they were not forced upon intimidated 
councils ; and while they touched matters of 
finance and of administration, they waged no war 
against the liberties of the Church. 

Before, as well as during, the reign of Edward, 
a steady and glorious progress towards liberty had 
been made ; but it had not been made through the 
reduction of the Baronage or the enslavement of 
the Church. The barons had ceased to be either 
the mimics or the creatures of foreign despots. 

Preface. xxxvii 

'They had won English liberty by their swords, 
and the popular trust in their fidelity to its 
cause was justified by the tradition of their order, 
which bound them to look on themselves as its 
natural guardians.' * Not less helpful to that 
cause had been the English clergy, to so many of 
whom, such as St. Edmund and Grossetete, an 
eloquent tribute is paid by Professor Stubbs, in his 
recent volume, as to men zealous for the rights of 
the people, and, while faithful to their Church, yet. 
the patriotic enemies of encroachment and abuse. 2 
It was through the aid of these two estates that 
Edward was enabled to carry out his great work 
of constitutional progress ; and it was no less 
through their united opposition that he was com- 
pelled to desist from arbitrary exactions. On the 
other hand, after the ancient Baronage had been 
ail but destroyed in the Wars of the Roses, and 
when the moral influence of the Clergy had pro 
portionately decreased, owing doubtless in part to 
the abuses connected with excessive wealth, and in 
part to other causes, then it was that arbitrary 

1 Green's 'History of the English People,' p. 196. 

2 'Const. Hist.,' vol. ii. pp. 299-303. 

xxxviii Preface. 

monarchy sprang up renewed under Edward IV. 
and consummated its work under the Tudors. A 
Tudor despotism established three centuries earlier 
might have lasted as long as an Oriental despotism, 
and perished to bequeath, not liberty, but anarchy. 
It was otherwise ruled. When its throne was fixed, 
a people stood behind it in the shadow; and 
liberty was reached though reached only through 
Rebellion, and Revolution. But that people only 
existed because, during the long struggle which 
substituted true parliaments and English kings for 
servile councils and foreign despots, the Clergy and 
the Baronage had held their own, and contributed 
their part to the vindication of municipal right 
and the claims of industry. That struggle had 
been fought on the platform of the old Saxon 

While estimating those strong-headed and 
strong-handed kings, the two earlier Henries, we 
are apt to forget that in them there were blended 
..a higher and a lower aim. Edward I. was a grave- 
hearted, virtuous, truthful, and seriously patriotic 
man. Henry I. i cared too little for them [ m * s 
people], to pretend to love them, and feared them 

Preface. xxxix 

too little to take pains to propitiate them ; ' 1 and 
his grandson was not more disinterested. Each 
was a great legislator, and a part of the work 
bequeathed by each entered largely into the English 
Constitution. But each came from a fierce stock, 
lived in a fierce age, and rushed forward to his ends 
by the nearest paths, resolved to trample down 
whatever stood in his way. In this, fortunately 
for their fame, they failed. Law may be either 
the shield of freedom or an iron mace in the hand 
of a power that fells whatever dares to lift up an 
unbending head ; and merely wanton and lawless 
tyranny is less formidable than tyranny which 
evades even an indirect responsibility. When the 
enthusiastic admirers of the two earlier Henries re- 
mind us how much England owes to them, they 
speak but half the truth. They should remark rather 
on the benefits bequeathed by a Henry I. plus an 
Anselm, and by a Henry II. plus a Becket. Those 
two prelates conferred on the kings who persecuted 
them the greatest of all boons ; they eradicated 
the evil those kings had sown, and thus enabled 
their good to grow up and bear fruit. They found 

2 Professor Stubbs's ' Constitutional History,' vol. i. p. 318. 

xl Preface. 

their vindication in ' Magna Carta.' That charter 
embodies the best legislation of the two Henries ; 
but it begins by re-affirming the old charters, and 
the old laws to which Becket had appealed, secures 
the free election of bishops, and proclaims once 
more the great principle ' Quod Anglicana Ecclesia 
Ubera sit' At the head of those who won that 
charter stood Stephen Langton. With him, with 
Anselm, and with that great line of lion-hearted 
prelates who so long made Canterbury renowned 
throughout the world, Becket has a place. It is 
unjust to single out for exceptional censure or half- 
hearted praise one alone among them that one 
who loved the king before whom he would not 
crouch, and who witnessed for his faith in his 


Dramatis |}jers0nar. 


HENRY PLANTAGENET, King of England. 
PRINCE HENRY, son of Henry II. 
RICHARD DE ( LJJCI, Chief Justiciary of England. 

DE BROC, an apostate monk become knight. 
" TtfOMAS A BECKED Archbishop of Canterbury. 
"JOHN OF SALISBURY, "I . . . ,/.. 7 / r> 7 
HERBERT OF BOSHA^, ) *** *fi* of Becket. 
ALEXANDER LLEWELLEN, a Welshman, his cross-bearer. 
WILLIAM FITZ-STEPHEN, a retainer of Becket. 
HENRY OF BLOIS, brother of King Stephen, and Bishop of 


ROGER DE PONT L'EVEQUE, Archbishop of York. 
GILBERT FOLIOT, Bishop of Hereford, and afterwards of 


JOHN OF OXFORD, a pi iest, and Secretary to Henry II. 
*SCA1LMAN, a lay brother. 

BRITO, HUGH DE MOREVILLE, knights in the King's 


EDWARD GRIM, a Cambridge clerk. 


Louis, King of France. THE ARCHBISHOP OF ROUEN. 

GUARINE, Abbot of Pontigny. 




THE EMPRESS MATILDA, mother of Henry II. 
QUEEN ELEANOR, wife of Henry II. 

Monks, courtiers, soldiers, minstrels, attendants, &c. 



OF BOSHAM. Beyond is a crowd waiting outside the Abbey, 
"within which the monks of St. Augustine^ s at Canterbury have 
just made election of THOMAS A BECKET to the Primacy. 


Archbishop of the church of Canterbury, 

' Rome of the North ' well named ! Give God the 

praise ! 
The man I love stands honoured. 


England 's honoured ! 
Thomas is English wholly Saxon half ; 
A scion of that ancient, healthful stock 
Which fell on Hastings' field ; the first, moreover, 
Who for five reigns hath swayed Augustine's staff. 
King Harold, have thy joy ! 
B 2 

Thomas a Becket. 



Our king is wise ; 

King Henry, of that name the first, espoused 
A daughter of the Saxon line Matilda, 
That English blood, with Norman mixed, thenceforth 
Might CGfrtfdrt' English hearts. King Henry's grandson 
\VcJJ$s in his/grandsire's steps, throning this day 
A London merchant's son. 


With better luck, 

Pray God ! than Beauclerk's the Investitures ; 
Anselm, the primate, fought that battle hard, 
Stretching from exile a lean, threatening arm, 
And won it more than half. At Bee he lies, 
Or England ne'er had slept. I think he sleeps not ; 
I think that in his grave the stern old monk, 
Who looked so meek and mild, keeps vigil still, 
Muttering of simony and sins of princes. 
The king did well to choose a citizen's son : 
T is that which makes this brutish city loud ; 
Yet safer far had been a humbler choice 
Becket hath Norman blood. 


What matters that ? 
Norman and Saxon daily blend in England : 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 5 

The king is neither. Sir, he 's Angevine : 

His faithfullest subjects we ; not less we know him 

Of alien race an alien emperor 

Who counts our England 'mid his subject realms, 

And seldom sees her face. Remember, Cornwall, 

That, when that earlier Henry sware, new-crowned, 

To grant this land once more the laws of Alfred, 

Not Saxon churl alone desired the boon, 

But Norman knight no less. Forget not this : 

Matilda how unlike her empress-daughter ! 

Was saint with either race, and won her lord 

To hold his parliaments. The king and she 

Walked side by side when Alfred's bones were moved 

From Newminster to Hyde. 


'T is true ; this Becket 
Shares not the scandal of that foreign brood 
Which swarms through all the realm's great offices ; 
Preys on our lands. A Norman was his sire ; 
Some say his mother was an Asian princess, 
Who loved that father chained in Holy Land, 
Loosed him, and with him fled. 


Likelier I deem it 
She cut her flaxen Saxon tresses short, 

6 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

And followed him to Syria, garbed a page, 
With cross upon her shoulder, and a heart 

Made strong by maiden love. 



Brave legends both ! 
They mean that Becket 's great. Whatever hath 


Kindles some legend round its onward way 
Through the gross ether of the popular mind. 
Becket 's a man ! 


A merchant's son not noble 1 


Patriarch is he of nobles, not their son 

The nobles ; mid the shepherds of Christ's flock : 

Let that suffice. 


Whate'er his race, 't was merit 

Raised Beckef s head. But three months chancellor, 
He scourged those boors of Flanders from the realm ; 
Shook down the bandits' towers above the builders : 
So plainly his desert shone forth, that Envy 
Bit her own tongue reviling him. Great knights 
Flocked to his standard ; sons of nobles stood 
His pages in the splendour of his halls. 


Thomas a Becket. 

His ways were royal : when he crossed the seas 
To vindicate 'gainst France our England's name, 
Six ships of his own building with him sailed, 
And sixteen hundred warriors ate his bread ; 
The chivalry of Aquitaine and Anjou, 
Of Scotland, Brittany, yea, England's self, 
Stared at the steel-mailed cleric. 


Sir, a deacon 
A deacon only, not a priest. 


Once more 

I see that French knight, Engelramme de Trie, 
Upon the red field rolling 

(GILBERT FOLIOT, attended by JOHN OF OXFORD, issues from 
the Abbey.'] 


Hush ! here 's Gilbert 
I hate that sallow face and inward eye 
And, with him, John of Oxford, courtier-priest, 
That, round and ready, slips and slides through all 


And ever upward works. Leicester, come hence ! 
To Rouen next : we '11 bring the king the tidings. 

[Cornwall and Leicester depart. 

Thomas a Becket. ACT ,. 


A cure miraculous, John, the king has worked ; 
Touches a soldier, and a bishop rises : 
The hand that cures the evil gives the staff ! 


My lord, the staff is given ; the evil, long, 
Transferred, not cured, shall plague the heart of 


I see in yonder man a strength resistless ; 

A strength for ill. In washing of the dirt 

From off the Church, he '11 wash the Church to nothing. 

I preached against her sins there were who said 

I bit them hard ; he '11 rend away the rags 

With shreds of flesh adhering. Next, he '11 loose 

The spiritual body from the secular clutch ; 

Let princes look to that. 


Patience he lacks ; 
Victory half won, he '11 dash himself to death. 


There 's in him strength to wrest from death itself 
Victory, when all seems lost. 

\Gilbert and John pass on. 


Thomas a Becket. 


If they deceive the great, they deceive not the 
simple. Gilbert is twice Roger's height, and but half 
his bulk ; yet it is envy, not his fasts, that wasteth 
him. Though he is mortified, yet he is sycophant. 
If the king bade him eat a babe new baptized, he 
would eat it for its soul's sake, and say grace. 


To hear them talk the nobles and the priests 
each finding a reason for the promotion of Thomas ! 
I know the reason, for I was there. When our 
king and the French king were last at war, the longer 
each looked at his brother the uglier he thought 
him. Then was devised this counsel to marry 
together their two children, our Prince Henry, then 
five years old, and their Princess Marguerite, then 
three. Thomas, being lord chancellor, was sent to 
Paris to fetch home the bride. There stood I that 
day, and gave glory to God. 


What saw you ? 


Of his own household there were two hundred 
clerics and knights chanting hymns. Then 

io Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

followed his hounds ten couples. Next came 
eight waggons with five horses each, and each 
bearing eight casks of wine. After them followed 
other waggons : the first bare the chancellor's 
wardrobe, the second his pantry, the third his 
kitchen, the fourth the furniture for his chapel ; the 
fifth his books, his gold plate, and infinite silver 
crowns. Under every waggon there walked an 
English mastiff, bound. Then followed twelve 
sumpter-horses. The esquires bare the shields, and 
the falconers the hawks on their fists ; after whom 
came those that held the banners ; and last, my lord 
on a milk-white horse. Princesses gazed from the 
windows, and nuns peered through their, grates : 
and they of France muttered as he passed, * If 
this be England's chancellor, what is her king? 1 
Thomas gave gifts to all to the princes, and the 
clergy, and the knights, and to the poor more than 
to the rich to one a palfrey, and to one a gold 
brooch, and to one a jewel. When he feasted the 
beggars, he bade them take with them the gilded 
spoons, and the goblets ; and the dish of eels which 
my lord supped on that night cost a hundred marks. 
God honoured him because he loved the poor ; and 

I knew he would be exalted. 

[ They pass on. 


Thomas a Becket. 1 1 



A heavy weight, good Herbert, and a sudden ! 


My lord, it came from heaven ; what need we more ? 
Who sent the weight will send the strength. That bard 
Whose Trojan legend was the old world's Bible 
Clothed his best Greek with armour from the Gods, 
And o'er the field it bore him like a wind. 
What meant that armour ? Duty ! O my lord, 
The airy gauds that deck us, these depress us : 
The divine burthen, and the weight from God, 
Uplift us and sustain. 


Herbert ! my Herbert ! 

High visions, mine in youth, upbraid me now : 
I dream of sanctities redeemed from shame ; 
Abuses crushed ; all sacred offices 
Reserved for spotless hands. God's house, God's 


I see so bright that every English home, 
Sharing that glory, glitters in its peace. 

1 2 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

I see the clear flame on the poor man's hearth 
From God's own altar lit ; the angelic childhood ; 
The chaste, strong youth ; the reverence of white 

hairs : 

'T is this Religion means. O Herbert ! Herbert ! 
Had I foreseen, with what a vigilant care 
Had I built up my soul ! The fall from greatness 
Had tried me less severely. Many a time 
I said, ' From follies of these courts and camps 
Reverse will scourge me homeward to my God ! ' 
Lo ! greatness comes, not judgment. 


It may be 

That God hath sent you both in one. Fear nought ! 
At Paris first, and after at Bologna, 
You learned the Church's lore ; with Theobald, 
In his pontific court, advanced therein ; 
Time lost can be redeemed. 


Give we, each day, 

Six hours to sacred studies ! Ah ! you smile ; 
You note once more the boaster. Friend, 't is true, 
Our penitence itself doth need repentance ; 
Our humbleness hath in it blots of pride. 
Hark to that truant's song ! We celibates 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. r 3 

Are strangely captured by this love of children ; 

Nature's revenge say, rather, compensation. 

The king will take him hence. God's will be done ! 

I lose my pupil, and become your pupil ; 

A humble one no more. 

High saint of God, or doctor of the Church, 

'T were late for that ; yet something still remains : 

I ever wished to live an honest man 

Honest to all, and most to Christ, my Master. 

Help me in this ! 


I promise. 


Worldly pomps, 

We said last night, are death to zeal divine. 
The king must find some worthier chancellor. 
It irks me thus to slight his gifts ; yet John, 
Who journeys with the prince, must bear to France, 
With these my missives, and a subject's duty, 
His realm's Great Seal. 

(PRINCE HENRY enters.'] 

The swallow, little Prince, 
Can twitter, though he sings not : so can you, 
That, like the swallow, with you waft the spring. 

14 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 


Better his twitter than the organ's growl : 
Vespers are done ; that 's well ! 


They say, my child, 

Those Canterbury monks have made me primate ; 
I little like the charge. 


Why take it then ? 

I spurned this day a shoe, though wrought in pearl, 
Because it galled me aye, and left a stain 
Upon the maker's cheek ! The chancellor's gown 
Was gayer thrice than that. You have changed for 


High place hath many foes. 


When father dies, 
I shall be king : that day I J ll find and slay them I 

Child, love you not your father ? 


Lo ! you frown ! 
I love my father, but I love you better. 

SCENE IT. Thomas a Becket. 1 5 

Not oft he speaks to me, nor then with smiles : 
He knows no pretty tales of birds and beasts ; 
He never lays his hand upon my head ; 
Hard are his questions ; ere the answer comes 
He sits in cloud, or leaves me. 


Little Prince, 

It may be when the cloud is on his brow 
His thought is for his son ! Know you not, Henry, 
A father's heart is with his babes ? For them 
He toils all day ; for them keeps watch by night ; 
Risks oft his soul itself. See you this letter ? 
It bids me send you home. We part at sunrise. 


I will not go ! I '11 stay with you in London ! 

Hark, hark, the light hoofs dancing in the court : 

Long-maned, large- eyed, a white star on his front 

They said he was so gentle, I could ride him : 

I answered I would ride him mild or wild. 

Father, farewell ! [Rushes out. 


Farewell, light heart ! Man's life 
Loses its speciousness : remains but Duty. 

1 6 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 


strels, Attendants. 


Three victories in three realms had pleased me less ! 
This day my ten years' purpose stands fulfilled : 
Those monks have given consent ! Thomas Arch- 

That hand which holds the seal, wielding the staff, 
The feud of Crown and Church henceforth is past. 
My chancellor made primate, Henry of Blois 
Shall bend from his stiff back. 


Have joy, good husband ! 
The gift of faith is yours ! 


You trust in none ; 

I, trusting few, trust Thomas ; I have proved him. 
Those sins my youth had not the grace to shun, 
At least it scorned to vindicate. Who chid them ? 
Nor knight, nor bishop ; he and he alone ! 
You scorn your one true friend. 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. 1 7 


Hear that, fair ladies ! 
A spouse unfaithfuller still 


Henceforth I rule ! 

None shares with me my realm. My Lord of Lisieux, 
Should not a king be king ? 


May it please your Highness, 
; T is known I never walked with them that err 
From duty to their king. Yet kings forgive me 
Armed with that twofold power your Highness boasts, 
Shall need a sage's prudence. 


Have no fear ! 

That twofold sway my own, the world shall wonder 
Less at its greatness than the temperance meek 
Wherewith I wield its functions. 


Sire, 't is thus 

Your Church shall serve you best. The garden dial 
Is lawful appanage of the garden's lord ; 
Yet he who wills to plant it at incline, t 
And he who scans it by his private taper, 
Knows not the hour o' the day. 

1 8 Thomas a Becket. 



My kingdom's bishops 

Shall keep full power to mulct ill clerks : and Rome, 
Albeit reduced, retain her vantage-place 
The loftiest tassel on the Church's cap. 


What cap is that ? In Guienne some would answer 

' A fool's cap on a palsy-stricken head.' 

O, ; t is a beauteous and a beaming land ! 

I ever hated Paris ! There that monk, 

Bernard, held sway ; but in my sunny South, 

Strong as the North in arms, and wiser thrice, 

T was banquet still, and song. i Mysteries ' and 

1 plays ' 

Alternate graced our halls. Gay Troubadours ! 
Amid our ' Courts of Love ' I judged the prize 
They sware my song was best ! 


Rise, Southern sea, 

And drown for aye that sun-burnt land of ' Oc ! ' 
An oak-wood of the North were worth it all ! 
Your Troubadours have but one song among them, 
And that 's the grasshopper's ! Their garrulous land 
Scorns kings as much as priests ! Your grandfather 

SCENE in. Thomas d Becket. 1 9 

In spleen forsook it lived in Spain, cave-roofed, 
The knightly armour hid by hermit weeds, 
And, worn by penance, died. 


A lying tale ! 

He revelled to the end, and died in sleep : 
Heaven grant us all such end ! I tell you, Henry, 
My land 's a land of mind yet more than mirth, 
Where men who wish your wish have longer sight. 
There are who whisper there that marriage vows, 
Like vows monastic, mean but priestly gain; 
Poor Petronilla ! Rodolf loved her well : 
What marred that love ? A dotard Pope, preferring 
To theirs the claim of Rodolf 's beldam wife, 
Espoused in ignorant youth ! 


You fought their fight ; 

And thirteen hundred boors were burnt, they say, 
In Vitry's church, when Vitry fell. 


Which error 

We cancelled, fighting in the Holy Land. 
O, what a clime ! What flowers, what fruits, what 

I odours ! 
Vhat stars, clear-imaged in those Asian streams 

2O Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

That land hath but one blot Jerusalem ! 
A city like a nightmare, legend-choked ; 
Black den of Saints ! 


Your i Amazons ' and you, 
Whose quaint apparel wonder-struck the world, 
Ended, ere long, I think, that high crusade. 


When captains shape their march to please a lady, 
The shame is theirs, not hers. 'T was frolic all, 
And so in frolic died. 


A frolic ! woman ! 

My earliest dream was of some great crusade ; 
That work shall yet be mine my last, my chief : 
Aye, but I '11 build my empire first ! That done, 
My brave and loyal sons shall share my toils, 
Or guard my realms at home. 


How chill 't is grown 

Swift Southern springs, that with a flame of flowers 
In one day light the earth, how unlike you 
This tardy Norman May ! See those poor monkeys ! 
Despite their coats of scarlet and of gold 
They shake from ears to tail. Fitz-Urse, some music ! 


Thomas a Becket. 2 1 


Madam, there stands a Trouvere ! 


Let him sing. 
Minstrel, what poems make you? 


Please your Highness, 

The proud old pagan poets made their songs ; 
We Trouveres find, not make them, deeming earth 
God's poem, beauty-stored. 


Then find me one. 

TROUVERE sings. 

I make not songs, but only find : 

Love, following still the circling sun, 

His carols casts on every wind, 
And other singer is there none. 

I follow Love, though far he flies ; 

I sing his song, at random found, 
Like plume some bird of Paradise 

Drops, passing, on our dusky bound. 

In some, methinks, at times there glows 
The passion of some heavenlier sphere : 

These too I sing ; but sweetest those 
I dare not sing, and faintly hear. 

2 2 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 


That 's psalm, not song ! Sing me some love-song old, 
Of Grecian gods and nymphs. 


On Grecian hills 


Traditionary melodies survive, 

Pagan, yet touched in part by tenderer feeling. 

I know one ' Phoebus and the Doe. 7 


Sing that. 
TROUVERE sings. 
Phoebus paced the wooded mountains ; 

Kindled dawn, and met a doe ; 

' Child, what ails thee that thou rovest 

O'er my bright hills sad and slow ? 

' That upon thy left side only 
Thou thy noontide sleep dost take ; 

That thy foot the fountain troubles 
Ever ere thy thirst thou slake ? ' 

Answered thus the weeping creature : 
4 Once beside me raced a fawn ; 

See'st her, O thou God all-seeing ! 
O'er thy hills, in wood or lawn ? 

* On my left side sleep I only, 

For 't is there my anguish stirs ; 
And my foot the fountain troubles, 

Lest it yield me shape like hers.' 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. 23 

Then the Sun- God marvelled, musing, 

* When my foolish Daphne died, 
Rooted 'mid Peneian laurels, 

Scarce one little hour I sighed.' 


A love-song that ! An icicle it is 
Added to winter ! Phoebus was a fool, 
Else had he captured Daphne ere she rooted ; 
Your doe a fool to weep for gladness past. 
What says King Henry ? 

DE TRACY (entering). 

May it please your Highness, 

Four priests are come, sent by my lord the primate, 
With letters and a casket. 


Bid them enter. 
Thomas has sent some offering ! 

(JOHN OF SALISBURY enters, followed by three abbots.} 

QUEEN ELEANOR (to one of her ladies). 

Lo, their saint ! 

Large fame is his, and long I craved to see him : 
Princely he is, but lacks the princely pride ; 
Rather some prince's phantom gaunt and wan ; 

24 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

Methinks that moon which maddens him looks 
through him ! 

( JOHN OF SALISBURY presents a letter to the king. ) 

The casket first ! Belike a crown imperial ! 


Not so ! A diamond necklace ; and for me ! 

(She tears open the casket, out of which rolls the Great Seal of 
England. ) 


This missive, sovereign liege, humbly sets forth 
Those forceful, yet unwelcome counter-duties, 
The exigence whereof compelled my lord 


To hurl at England's head England's Great Seal ! 
At last I know him ! Traitor ! 

(He tears up the letter, and flings it on the fire.} 

Burn unread, 

Foul web of lies ! Thou too, England's Great Seal, 
Once type of justice and of law, this day 
Spurned from the traitor's clutch that long defiled 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 25 

Dishonour's badge ! poor clod of kneaded vileness ! 
I crush thee 'neath my feet ! 

(He tramples on the Great Seal.) 


May it please your Highness 


Hence, lest I strike thee and thy fellows dead ! 

O sharp-toothed worm ! this heart it was that nursed 
thee ; 

Lo, thou hast gnawed thy passage to the day ! 

Base churl, thou show'st at last thine English breed 

And king-defying fierceness. Vengeance ! Ven- 
geance ! 

7 T was with a smile he said our love was past 

He '11 find my hate begun. Cornwall ! Fitz-Urse ! 

This night to England : stay the consecration : 

Say that my will is changed. 




It was untoward, my lord, though done in duty : 
The king is much in wrath. 

26 Thomas a Becket. 



His choice made wroth 
Augustine's monks : they love no seculars, 
Yet, hating Roger more, and Gilbert more, 
And jealous for a right so oft impugned, 
Elected Thomas. Thomas sought not greatness. 
But late I stood beside him and the king 
At Falaise, in a window which overlooks 
The pleasant Norman plains. The king turned sharp, 
And caught him by the arm, and spake, ' Get hence ! 
Old Theobald is dead : fill thou his seat.' 
The chancellor smiled, and, lifting his gay sleeve, 
Replied, ' A saintly man your Highness seats 
Upon Augustine's chair ; ' then added, sad, 
< Forbid it, heaven ! One month, and love, long tried, 
Would change to new-born hatred. Royal needs 
Prey on Church rights ! ' On me King Henry looked 
' Richard, if on my bier I lay, stone-cold, 
Say, would'st thou throne my son?' I answered 

And he, ' Thus throne my friend at Canterbury ! ' 


The king is changed. 'T is true he loved this Becket ; 
But more he trusted Becket's love for him, 
And for his royal pupil, young Prince Henry. 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 2 7 

My lord, King Stephen, pressed by rivals, bowed 
The sceptre to the crosier. Not so Henry ! 
He, in the purple born, from his great mother, 
The Empress Maude, inherited by right 
Both Normandy and Maine, and from his sire 
Touraine and Anjou. Next, with Eleanor 
He wedded Poitou, Limousin, Auvergne, 
Saintonge, and Perigord, and Angoumois, 
And Guienne's vine-clad plains. King Stephen died : 
England was his ; and, with it, Europe's coasts 
From Scottish shores to mountains of Navarre. 
Shall this man be the beadsman of the Pope ? 
Creedsman suffices ! 

DE BROC (entering abruptly]. 

God preserve your lordship \<. 

Sir, you are welcome. Becket for the primate 


So, so ! you fetch me back : I had slipped my tether: 

The king will have his Royal Customs rule, 

Not Saxon laws, priest-hatched. His chancellor 


He deemed his right secure ; that dream is past : 
Becket is chancellor no more. 

28 Thomas a Becket. ACY L 


That 's ill ! 

I ever marked an inner man in Thomas, 
That stirred within the outer. Burst he must, 
Or soon, or late, his bond. 


The king misdoubts him, 
And, till his will be signified, forbids 
The consecration rite. 


The election 's made ; 
And, being made in form, no law annuls it. 


Then take him, like a dog, and hang him up ! 
That done, I find his crime. 


The task befits you : 

You know faults clerical. A monk one time, 
You cast your coat, and walked a secular ; 
No fitter ferret for a cloistral warren ! 


King's man am I ; nor traitor, nor a dupe 
That takes his stand on precedent. 

SCENERY. Thomas a Becket. 29 


Sir, you stand 

In presence of this realm's Justiciary, 
Who knows alike to vindicate old laws 
And pluck from fraud its mask of loyal zeal. 
You came unbidden ; waste not time on us 
If tasks are yours elsewhere. 


One task is mine 
To slay the man I hate ; and I will slay him ! 



The air grows healthier now de Broc has left us : 
That man 's a forest-beast no art can tame. 
Three times my hand, with iron mace of law, 
Hath spurned him to his den ; or else Idonea 
But you, long absent, know not that black fount 
Which feeds his hate for Becket. 


Tell his tale. 

In youth his bad heart was a nest of adders, 
Envenomed purposes and blind, at war : 
A monk, on false pretence he burst his bond, 

30 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

And roamed a-preying on the race of man. 
Idonea next he met 


Idonea ? 



The sweetest blossom lit by English skies, 

The tenderest of de Lisle's old stem. He met her, 

And loved her with the malice of that love 

Whose instinct is a craving less to enjoy 

Than kill the saintly grace it yet admires ; 

Likewise the upstart loved her wealthy lands. 

A prince had vainly wooed her ! From her childhood 

The orphan in her brother lived ; he died. 

Like some young widow moonlight-pale, three years, 

Daily she decked his grave, the same strange light 

For ever in those never tearless eyes 

Which dropped no tear. Then back old ardours 

rushed : 
She willed to be a nun. 


What hindrance stayed her ? 

She lived a royal ward. De Broc with bribes 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 3 1 

Won certain near the king Fitz-Urse, de Tracy 

To speed his wooing of the virgin-heiress. 

Large nets he spread. Once, well-nigh trapped, she 


The friend of her dead mother, Becket's sister, 
His dearest upon earth. That great man's name 
Since then protects Idonea ; for which cause 
(Poisoned beside by sin's insane suspicions) 
De Broc has vowed revenge. You have heard my tale : 
Back to our theme. What think you of our Primate ? 
Frankly, I never liked the royal choice. 

Whom would you choose ? 


Not York : the world, my friend, 
Needs not more worldly bishops. Poor sick world, 
Methinks thy leech, the Church, hath caught thy fever ! 


There 's Gilbert ! 


Fanatic of old, and late 

With courtier over-slimed. Sleekness like his 
Sophisticates, not stays, the fight before us, 

3 2 Thomas a Becket. ACT ^ 

Makes slippery too the athlete's wrestling-floor. 

I note in every country at this hour 

A warfare 'twixt the men of mind and might, 

The crosier and the sword ; these are two kingdoms, 

In every kingdom front to front opposed, 

Yet needing each the other. 


Up, good sword, 
And strike the crosier down ! 


Cornwall, that cry 

Hath in it more of courtier than of statesman : 
The crosier down, justice were driven from earth, 
And chaos come again. 


The Church is proud 
Clamours for freedom. 


I was ne'er of those 

Who deem such freedom but a maniac's knife 
Threatening that maniac's throat. Be hers her 

Let kings reduce her pride. King Stephen's brother, 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 33 

Henry of Winton, loves both Church and State ; 
Plots not with bishops, fawns not upon kings ; 
But higher sits than either seeking nought. 
Legate he was ; too near hath stood to popes 
And monarchs both, to find, in either, gods: 
Whichever wrongs the other he withstands : 
I love that bishop well. If rich, he 's bounteous ; 
Rides with a prince's retinue ; what then ? 
The people love him better for his pride, 
Birth's honest pride how different from the pride 
Of upstart intellect, or of spiritual spleen ! 
; T is but a loftier terrace, whence to bend 
More humbly on the humble. 


Winton primate, 

All had gone well ! 


Save to the scaffold's height, 
King Henry ne'er had raised King Stephen's brother. 

34 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 



Winton last week ordained a serf of mine ; 
This day my serf is free. Be instant, John, 
With Henry for the nobles ! Must we starve ? 
Sir, we attend the king at heavy charge : 
Concede to us but this the presentations : 
Shear we the shepherds ; shear who will the sheep. 
Nobles must live ! 


My lord, what power have I ? 
Why seek you not my lord of York or Gilbert, 
God's saint and Henry's both ? 


Know you de Broc ? 
Fitz-Urse resounds his praise. 


I know him not : 

Some inadvertency of youth, men said, 
In part had smirched his boyish reputation, 
Though bettered by desert in later years. 

SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. 3 5 

A priest perforce lives clean ; but you, I doubt not, 
Shall find him good at need. 


Your counsel, John ? 


My lord, your best of policy were this, 

To have no policy, but watch events. 

Stand still ! Your best advance shall help you less 

Than stumbling of your foe. 


Our foe is yours : 
? T was Becket gave you first that name ' The Swearer.' 

[Leicester departs. 


As if I knew not well that Becket scorns me ! 
I pay his scorn with hate. They need me ; aye, 
What marvel ? Blind they are as bats, these nobles ; 
While those who see the cleric race are mad, 
And differ but in manner of their madness. 
First, there 's the Church's champion, like this Becket, 
Who wins from her small thanks ; the prelate next, 
Who softly struts, a spiritual king, 
In miniver and gold, like Winton's Henry ; 
D 2 

36 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

Then he that, all too proud for pomps extern, 

Grows thin with feeding on his self-conceit, 

And sours with glances at his neighbour's gain ; 

He who out-fasts the Church's fasts ; out watches 

Her vigils ; never coveted her thrones 

Till wholesomer men possessed them. Gilbert, Gilbert ! 

A saint wert thou ! What hindered thee from running? 

Let Satan answer that ! The king is mine ; 

That flame-eyed queen he hates will drive him on, 

With none to guide him. I am scarce ambitious ; 

But I was born beneath a politic star, 

Was trained to walk in labyrinthine ways, 

And needs must use my natural faculties. 

The game ! 't is that I love ! O Gilbert, Gilbert ! 

Save that that faith ascetic, once thy boast, 

Though dead by day, yet. spectre of itself, 

Still leans, a dreadful nightmare, o'er thy bed, 

How fair a game were thine ! 



Rouse not a sleeping lion ! More than once 
He hath muttered in his sleep. 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 3 7 


King Henry ? Friend, 
I imitate far off his great example : 
Once king, his rights, king-like, he vindicated ; 
At once he grasped those alienated lands, 
And hurled the intruders forth. 


Again I say it : 

Await the king's attack ; provoke it not : 
His anger I have seen 
The prince it was, not I, who charmed it from you. 

The prince ? 


Three hours I strove to soothe his rage, 
The Great Seal lying on the ground before him ; 
(Two days it lay there : none had dared to lift it) 
And strove in vain. I cried in my despair, 
' Pride is the sin of kings ; that pride o'erflows 
From them upon their babes, till heaven is forced, 
For their soul's sake, to snatch them from this world. 
Your grandsire had a son but one Prince William : 
He from his sire had caught the haughty heart, 
And oft in childhood sware, " When I am king, 

38 Thomas a Becket. 


These English boors, harnessed like ox or ass, 
Shall cleave the Norman's glebe ! " He ne'er was king : 
The great waves o'er him closed ! ' While thus I spake 
The prince ran by ; his father's eye pursued him : 
That hour his heart was changed. 


I hold a trust. 


Sustain the freedom of the Church : its lands, 
If lost long since, let be. 


I will not suffer 

The meanest stone in castle, grange, or mill, 
.The humblest clod of English earth, one time 
A fief of my great mother, Canterbury, 
To rest a caitiff's booty. 


Then, my lord, 

Beware de Broc ! Kinsman is he, and friend 
Of John the Marshal, and his mate in sins. 
There 's not a bandit in the south coast woods 
But knows his castle's gate ; there 's not a pirate 
But in its vaults secretes a blood-bought spoil. 
De Broc 's like him who, ignorant of fence, 

SCENE vii. Thomas a Becket. 39 

Or mad with pain, against all rules of fence 
In dashes o'er the wariest warrior's guard, 
And, witless, slays the best. 


You have heard it, John, 
My pupil shall attend my consecration ! 
I owe that joy to you ! Farewell, my friend. 

\John of Salisbury departs. 

Herbert and John how wise is each ; how kind ! 
How few have friends like these ! Yet something 

tells me 
That neither will be near me when I die. 



You sware to kill him, yet your hand is vestal ; 
Vestal as hers 


Name not that name ! Her father 
Her father 't was she called him. O, the jest ! 

4O Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

Three years have passed since then : I said at parting, 
i That small, white hand shall dig that father's grave ! ' 


You sware 


Enough ! your king is ceremonious : 
Besides, he hates him half, and half admires : 
This John of Oxford told me. 


The king did ill, 
Relaxing from his wrath. 


When next he storms, 

Give not repentance time. This too remember : 
In all your gilt king-clan, there 's but one head ; 
That head is John of Oxford's : but one hand ; 
That hand the hand you scoffed. You sail to-night ? 

Aye ! John of Oxford waits this consecration. 

(A sailor looks in at the window, and makes a sign.) 

Summoned ! Your wind is fair : I know your captain ; 
A stalwart man, not scrupulous. Last night 


Thomas a Becket. 41 

Our wine was gift of his. When next the king 
Shall send you hither, see you bring your sword: 
This time you came to babble. 


A multitude of clerics and others stand around watching the 
advance of BECKET, preceded by a procession of nobles, 
abbots, and bishops. JOHN OF SALISBURY and HERBERT 
OF BOSHAM converse alone. 


Since came to him this greatness he is sad ; 
He fears the election was not wholly free. 


When Canterbury's towers looked on us first 

O'er the great woodlands, thus he spake : * Last night 

By me there stood a Venerable Form, 

And gave me talents ten ; ' then added low, 

' See that thou sift my faults with flail and fan : 

I count thee traitor else.' 


They pass the gate : 

42 Thomas a Becket. ACT L 

Thomas walks last, and by his side the prince, 
Holding his hand full fast. That child well loves him : 
A word 'gainst Becket, and his face, heaven-bright, 
Clouds with his father's frown ! 


When first I saw him v 

It was his birthday. Loud the trumpets blared, 
And fair the banners waved. The child was glad, 
And tossed his head in triumph. Becket warned him : 
1 Child, walk less proudly ! He who fashioned man, 
Fashioned yon worm ; and when the man lies dead 
The worm consumes his flesh ! ' ' My flesh ? ' in wrath 
The prince cried out ; ' my flesh the King of Eng- 

I ; d treat them thus ! ' and on the green turf thrice 
Down stamped his little crimson boot ; They come ! 

(The procession enters the Cathedral, the people kneeling 
at each side.) 


Ye that have power with God, the poor of Christ, 
Lift up your hearts, and pray that England's primate 
May walk in honesty with God till death ! 

(The procession advances to the high altar, before which sits 
HENRY OF BLOIS, Bishop of Winton. The monks of 
St. Augustine's Monastery stand in a semicircle around 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 43 

him. The bishops take their seats in two rows below him, 
in front of the altar ; the abbots sti, and the nobles stand 
behind them.'] 

LEICESTER (apart to de Luci). 

My lord of Wiriton consecrates the primate ; 
The king will like not that. 


It shall bestead him. 

My Lord of York made claim, and Hereford, 
And some Welsh bishop, oldest in the land, 
Who butts against Pelagius in his dreams, 
And thinks him living yet. I spake with Winton : 
Becket he loves except when others praise him ; 
And this day will in grave discourse exhort 
To walk in modesty of virtue, taming 
Man's pride of flesh, and please our lord the king. 

THE BISHOP OF ROCHESTER (addressing the 
Bishop of Winton). 

Most reverend lord, through me the Church presents, 
For consecration to a bishop's order, 
The archiepiscopal degree, and throne 
Primatial of the total realm of England, 
Thomas, a presbyter of life approved. 

44 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 


Was this election free? 


My lord, 't was free. 


It resteth with the bishops of the province 
To ratify the election, or annul. 
What sentence make my lords ? 


My lord, our voices 
Unanimous approve the loudest mine. 


My lords, this work, we trust, is work of God ; 

Not less, where things of heaven with earthly mix, 

A creeping wariness perforce hath place 

; Mid duties more sublime. This hour mine eye 

Rests on a youth who to the heart of England, 

That most in innocency seeth God, 

Presenteth ever comfort of her hope, 

And to this Church good auspice. Here he stands 

To answer for his father. Royal sir, 

This man, elect to Canterbury's chair, 

Hath long time lived the realm's high chancellor ; 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 45 

Dispensed her offices ; held in his hand 
Her treasury's golden key. A man so trusted 
Hath enemies. For that cause we demand 
That Thomas to the Church be given absolved 
From every claim foregone, just or unjust, 
Derived from functions past ; henceforth for aye 
A free man, with a spirit's freedom ranging 
Among the things of God. 


My Lord of Winton, 

And you, my lords, England's great prelacy, 
In apostolic synod this day met, 
Though young, I stand commissioned by my sire, 
And, acting in his name, and by his will, 
Concede that just demand. 


Son, read the oath. 

(BECKET reads the oath of a bishop aloud, and ends ) 
May God so help me, and His holy Gospels ! 


Son, it behoves a bishop of Christ's Church 
To make confession of her faith and morals : 
Believest thou one God in Persons Three, 

46 Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 

The Incarnation of the Second Person, 
And, through His death, redemption? 


I believe. 


Wilt thou bear witness to the sacred Scriptures 
And sage traditions of past times ? 


I will. 


Wilt thou to Peter, and that kingly line 
Long-linked with his, which wields the keys of heaven, 
Be liegeful and of constant heart ? 


I will. 


Wilt thou in chastity and lowness live, 
With spirit averse to worldly greed ? 


I will. 


Wilt thou be gracious to the poor of Christ ? 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 47 

I Will. 


God give thee increase of thy faith, 
And good resolve, to blessedness eternal ! 

(The assistant bishops conduct BECKET to a side chapel. After a 
short time they lead him back, wearing sandals, the pectoral 
cross, the stole, tunicle, dalmatic, and maniple. Passing 
the altar of St. Benedict, he kneels and prays. The Litanies 
are then sung, the bishops and other assistants kneeling, 
while BECKET lies on his face before the high altar. The 
Litanies ended, he kneels while the assistant bishops, solemnly 
opening the Book of the Gospels, rest it upon his neck and 
shoulders. After this they lay their hands on his head, saying, 
'Accipe Spiritum Sanctum,' while the Veni Creator 
Spiritus is sung. The BISHOP OF WINTON then, first 
slowly making the sign of the cross aver BECKET'S head, 
anoints it with the holy chrism, while two choirs, one at the 
high altar, and one in the chapel of St. Benedict, sing 
alternately the verses of the Antiphon, Sicut unguentum in 


Eternal King, and Kingly Priest on high, 
Whose virtue makes the worlds for ever young, 
Upon the head of this Thy priest on earth 
Send forth Thy grace. In stillness let it creep 
Down to the utmost parts invisible 
Of spirit and of soul. In him sustain 
True faith, true love. Make beautiful his feet, 

48 Tkomas a Becket. ACT i. 

And winged on the mountain-tops, forth speeding 

Thy herald with Thy Gospel for mankind : 

Be his to preach it, not by craft of men, 

But demonstration of Thy Spirit divine, 

In word and work. Grant him in right and might 

To wield Thy keys ; and what he binds on earth 

Bind Thou in heaven. Thy blessing send on them 

That bless him, and Thy ban on them that curse : 

Let him not put the evil for the good, 

Darkness for light. Fear he the face of none. 

Be Thou his strength, that mightily he rule 

Thy Church in this Thy realm, and save Thy people. 

( The BISHOP OF WINTON then blesses the pastoral staff and 
the ring, and delivers them to BECKET, as well as the Book of 
the Gospels, closed, and finally gives him the kiss of peace, 
which last the assistant bishops likwvise reverently bestow. ) 

RICHARD DE Luci (apart to Leicester). 
My lord will preach. Draw near ! 


Some eight years since 
Our coronation feast at Westminster 
Showed us a pomp more rich. That day the prelates 
In divers-coloured silks so shone that still, 
Move where they might past gloomiest arch or aisle, 
They wove a varying rainbow, such as braids 
The dark skirts of a cloud. 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 49 


And cloud and storm 

That lovely light portended. 'T was the queen 
Who changed our graver splendours of the West 
That day to plumage of the Eastern Church, 
Inwov'n with flower and gem. The Grecian rites, 
In that schismatic seat of Constantine, 
Had charmed her wild and wandering eye. 


Lo there ! 

HENRY OF WJNTON (placing the mitre on Becket s head). 

The helmet of salvation gird the head 

Of God's high warrior : from its horns forth shine 

The glories twinned of either Testament : 

Auspicious beam they as from Moses' face 

That light of God. Be they His people's strength, 

And terrible to those who hate the truth. 

HERBERT (to John of Salisbury, still near the western 

I catch no word. 


The man who takes his stand 
Hard by a torrent hears no sound beside : 
Beyond that gate a torrent people streams 


5O Thomas a Becket. ACT i. 


Streams like the world, and all its blind confusions ; 
Within, behold the vision of God's peace ! 
Between these twain we stand. 


The rite 's complete : 
The primate kneels for blessing. 


Ha ! What means it ? 
The Consecrator blesses from his chair ; 
And none is loyal more to forms than Winton. 
Why stands he thus with hands to heaven upheld ; 
His white head shining like a sun new-risen, 
Through wintry mist dim seen ? 


At last he speaks ! 


This day the Spirit Prophetic on me falls, 
Nor rests with me to speak or to forbear. 
My will it was to preach of peace, and lo ! 
I see in heaven a sword ; 
Son, take God's blessing in a choice of woes : 

SCENE vin. Thomas a Becket. 5 1 

Betwixt an earthly and a heavenly king, 
Elect of God, this day election make ! 


See, see ! The primate clasps his hands, and lifts 

Heavenward he looks ! 


He speaks. 


My choice is made. 

(There is a pause. The assistant bishops then lead BECKET to the 
archiepiscopal throne^ the two choirs singing the Te Deum in 
alternate verses. ) 

5 2 Thomas a Becket. 





I never loved a man as 1 loved that man ; 

Nor any loved me better. Many a time, 

In years gone by, I marked, him on me bend 

An eye that, up and down, the measure took 

Of my hid soul, yet ended with a smile, 

As though, beyond the ill, it kenned some good 

I knew not of myself. 

The greater crime that, knowing me, he mocks me ! 

A thousand times that man hath heard me swear 

That alien none, or priest, shall share my kingdom. 

I '11 wear it like the armour on my back ; 

I '11 wield it as a man his members wields ; 

I '11 walk, its living soul ! 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 53 


Thomas is honest. 


He has me there : the crafty and the keen 
I soon outrun. 

And not, I think, ambitious. 


Ambitious was he till the height was gained : 
No step remaining for his climbing foot, 
He kneels him down a saint ! 


A saint is Becket 

That makes his feast with sinners. What a race ! 
There 's one at Exeter that, charged with crime, 
Dropped poison in the accuser's cup. 


And Gilbert, 

Who scorns to hide the failings of his cloth, 
Reports some priest at Winchester well known, 
Who, leagued with robbers, left his church-door wide : 
They stole the chalice. 

54 Thomas a Becket. ACT 1L 


These be Becket's clients, 
Secure from civil courts ! Who loves the sin 
Will screen the sinner. 


Aye, good queen ; you hate him ! 
Your tongue is sharp against him many a year ; 
Sharpest, men whisper, since that May long past, 
When, young in face and chancellor not bishop, 
He with the pageant of his greatness rilled 
The broad eye of the world ; and certain ladies 
Whose gamesome graces beautified your court 
Made vow to put his gravity to proof, 
And found that they had stained their fame, not his, 
Their glamour and their glitter still to him 
But gleam of swarming insects ! Once your spy 
Found him on bare boards sleeping. 


John of Oxford 

Reports your favourite's gratitude. At feast 
He descants on your Highness thus ' This puppet, 
Who, sans my aid at Rome in Stephen's time, 
Had lacked his realm, and twice since then had 
lost it, 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 55 

This feather dancing on a nation's crown, 

This bubble winking on the Church's cup, 

Presumes himself my king ! ' How answers Henry ? 

Why thus ' The violet of humility 

Not oft 'mid regal virtues finds a place : 

In the heath garland of Plantagenet 

Be mine to wear it first ! ' 

JOHN OF OXFORD (entering with a profound obeisance). 
May it please your Highness, 
A noisy challenge soon will beat your gates. 
Southward ten miles from this the primate halts ; 
There learned he that the royal grooms had filled 
That mansion pre-ordained to his greatness, 
By providence of his friends \ incensed, at morn 
To Canterbury he posts. 


Pernicious upstart ! 

Whom, groping in the dirt, this hand upraised, 
And lodged on high to be my shame and plague ; 
Vile hypocrite wearing religion's mask, 
And signing with his cross rebellion's way ; 
To Canterbury let him ! He shall wake, 
His pride's debauch exhaled, in heavier bonds 
Than Odo wore, the Conqueror's prelate brother 
Speak out thy thought, good John ! 

56 Thomas a Becket. ACT n. 


Please it, your Highness, 
If I might counsel, give the fool his way. 
Throughout all England, save alone this city, 
Mailed by your peers and splendid with your court, 
That man 's a king a pope at Canterbury : 
Once here, he 's in your power. 


There 's much in that. 


Yield him his house a street, if he demands it : 
A thunder-shower ere long shall drench his plumes : 
Methinks I see his knights and chaplains flying 


Let them not fly to me ! No skirt of mine 
Shall fence the pigmies ! 


For the Royal Customs, 

Name not their name at first : that blow comes last : 
I glance at this to guard you from his wiles. 
He swears that with a triple fraud his feet 
Were snared that day when, sore against his will, 
He promised to abide them. First 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 5 7 


Be brief ! 


Sire, if it please you, John is well advised. 

However sage may be those Royal Customs, 

And wholesome for this realm, whose stubborn heart 

Requires the heavy hand, his Grace is strong 

In precedents against them through all lands, 

And armed with these, shall draw to him the bishops 

Who love him least. Those Customs, seldom here 

Except through dread' admitted, are the band 

Which in one fagot binds the several sticks 

That, dealt with one by one, were quickly snapt. 

Withdraw their central stay ! 


Tax first the primate 
With unparticipated crimes ; his only ; 
His special forfeit, his unshared offence ; 
Then shall his bishops leave him. One thing more : 
See that he 'scape not ! nail him to this isle ! 
If once he stand on Christendom's broad ground 
With feet secure, the might of Christendom 
Will rise into his arm. Who wields that might 
Hurls the three-bolted thunder from the clouds 
And rules the orb of earth. 

5 8 Thomas a Becket. ACT n. 

DE TRACY (entering). 

My liege, two priests, 
Sent by my lord the primate. 


Bid them enter. 

Sirs, ere ye speak, the boon ye claim is yours : 
A humbler company hath filled, T hear, 
The primate's house. Return, and let him know 
Their boldness is rebuked. 

\He turns away. Herbert and Llewellen bow low and depart. 

How say ye, lords ? 

Whose men are ye ? King Henry's or King Becket's? 
Speak freely ye have leave. 


Sire, while this arm 
Cleaves to this body, cleave I to my king. 


King Henry and his right ! King's men are we ! 


My lords, there hath been question here and there 

Of benefices, and the right to fill them ; 

The Church is over-fleshed with lands and tithes, 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 59 

And staggers 'neath their weight. To stay that evil, 
We will that presentations from this hour 
Be deemed his appanage who holds the fief. 


Our swords shall guard it ! Henry and our right ! 


My Lord Justiciary alone is silent. 


My liege, the Royal Customs were our theme : 
I deem the royal claim doubtful in part ; 
More doubtful yet this claim to presentations. 
The law must solve that knot. The law declared, 
Nor swayed by spiritual threat or civil, 
I will enforce that law. 


My lords, farewell ! 
[All depart, except John of Oxford. 
Come hither, John ! I know it now : alone 
He rules his realm whose hand, unquestioned, turns 
That inmost central wheel which turns all others. 
Lisieux himself this day was mine but half 
Henceforth all bishops must be my creation. 

60 Thomas a Becket. ACT n . 


A nomination from the royal lips 
Meets but a coy resistance. 


There you err ; 

The power that 's indirect is incomplete. 
Those monks who ratified my choice of Becket, 
Had you been named, not he, had spurned my choice. 
We want new laws. The king must make his prelates; 
The chapters say their delegates rather met 
Not in their minsters but his royal chapel, 
Must ratify his choice. 


That time will come ; 

But they the act who fear not, fear the shame, 
And will not sin i' the sun. Leave all to me. 
Break, where you can, the courage of those bishops ; 
Divide them, each from each ; keep empty long 
The vacant sees. One hour some crisis dire 
Shall wring from those proud lords of York and London 
Consent to that which, urged this day, might shake 
Its gloss from Lisieux's silk. When comes that hour 
Your Highness shall not miss it. 


Look to that ! 

Thomas a Becket. 6 1 


BECKET sitting on a low bed in his pontificals. A large number 
of bishops enter. 


Most reverend father, primate of all England, 
We grieve to learn your Grace is ill 


That 's past : 

Brother, time presses : 't is to-day the feast 
Of good King Edward's relics late translated ; 
I pray you to be brief. 


My lord, we bishops 

Are fed on common food, breathe common air ; 
Rumours we hear which reach not that high clime 
Your Grace serenely breathes. Beware, my lord, 
For as a cliff eternal sits this king ; 
In vain the billows beat its base. 


The Church 
Was once the rock ; nations the waves. Who next ? 


My lord, our duty is to speak the truth. 

62 Thomas a Becket. ACT n . 

Destruction stands against us, face to face : 

The king has sworn to vindicate nay more, 

To change henceforth to laws, his Royal Customs. 


>T is so. 


His barons and his knights are with him : 
He, like the Conqueror, lifts an iron hand ; 
They, like an iron breast-plate on his breast, 
Have vowed them to the vengeance of his will. 

T is so. 


My lord, the wrestler needs firm ground ; 
The giant set on quicksands, or on ice, 
Becomes the pigmy's laughter. Peter's rock 
Was once the strength of each true churchman's battle : 
What find we now ? A Pope, and anti-pope ; 
The Emperor with the last ; and with the first 
England and France. No Pope will war on England. 
A sager Henry fights old Beauclerk's wars ; 
Beware lest you should rouse a bloodier Rufus. 


My lords, have you said all ? Then, hear me speak. 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 63 

I might be large to tell you, courtier prelates, 

That if the Conqueror's was an iron hand, 

Not less 't was just. Oftenest it used aright 

Its power usurped. It decked no idiot brow 

With casual mitre ; neither lodged in grasp 

That, ague-shaken, scarce could hold its bribe, 

The sceptres of the shepherds of Christ's flock. 

I might remind you that, if Rufus lived 

A bestial life, he died the death of beasts ; 

That Henry Beauclerk in old Anselm met 

A keener head than his, and heavier hand, 

Albeit a gentler ; that his ten years' war 

Ended in this Investitures disowned, 

Church discipline restored, Christ's poor protected. 

O happy sage ! in battles of this world 

The cloistral shades of Bee were with him still, 

Its holy anthems ever in his ears ; 

And when the craven prelates round his throne, 

For counsel summoned, counsel dared not give, 

Silent they hun?r their heads ; they babied not 

Plain treason, or veiled threat. 


My lord, your pardon ! 

We dare not leave the sacred charge of souls 
To strive in worldly conflicts. 

64 Thomas a Becket. ACT 


Gilbert ! Gilbert ! 

They that rejoice in heaven o'er sinners saved 
Wept for thy fall. Is that the hand which wrote, 
* Apostate is the man who turns his back 
Upon St. Peter's chair ? ' My voice it was 
Raised thee from Hereford's to London's see ; 
I hoped thee brave and true. Vantage thou had'sr, 
Chastening from youth thy spirit and thy flesh, 
At Cluny first, and afterwards at Gloucester ; 
Then Satan made alliance with the world, 
And wrecked thee through thy fame 
Gilbert, some swineherd or some scullion grasps 
This day thy destined crown ! 

Bishops of England ! 

For many truths by you this day enforced, 
Hear ye in turn but one. The Church is God's : 
Lords, were it ours, then might we traffic with it ; 
At will make large its functions, or contract ; 
Serve it or sell ; worship or crucify. 
I say the Church is God's ; for He beheld it, 
His thought, ere time began ; counted its bones, 
Which in His book were writ. I say that He 
From His own side in water and in blood 
Gave birth to it on Calvary, and caught it, 
Despite the nails, His Bride, in His own arms : 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. 65 

I say that He, a Spirit of clear heat, 
Lives in its frame, and cleanses with pure pain 
His sacrificial precinct, but consumes 
The chaff with other ardours. Lords, I know you ; 
What done ye have, and what intend ere yet 
Yon sun that rises weeping sets this night ; 
And therefore bind I with this charge your souls : 
If any secular court shall pass its verdict 
On me, your lord, or ere that sin be sinned, 
I bid you flee that court ; if secular arm 
Attempt me, lay thereon the Church's ban, 
Or else against you I appeal to Rome, 
To-day the heathen rage I fear them not : 
If fall I must, this hand, ere yet I fall, 
Stretched from the bosom of a peaceful gown 
Above a troubled king and darkening realm, 
Shall send God's sentence forth. My lords, farewell ! 
\The bishops bow low and depart. 



They baited him two days : he 's out of breath, 
Not out of heart 


66 Thomas a Becket. 



His mitred brethren first 
Quaked for themselves. 'T was brave to watch them 


When charge on charge was hurled on him alone, 
And no word uttered which impugned their order; 
To mark them whispering first ; then glancing round, 
Like woodland creatures peering from their holes 
When storms are gone. Ere long they basked and 


Like birds on late-drenched branches, sunshine-gilt, 
And cleared their throats for song. 


The king observed them : 

He said, ' They nought had grudged it had my voice 
Vouchsafed them John of Oxford for their primate ; 
Aye, or yourself, Fitz-Urse ! ' 


Their playtime 's past : 

The storm gone by rolls back. At noon this day 
We reach the Royal Customs. 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 67 


The nobles are ranged along both sides. At the upper end is the 
royal throne, beyond which are the king's apartments. At 
the lower end are seated the bishops and abbots. BECKET 
approaches, attended, and wearing the sacred vestments, 
under the black habit of a canon regular. Entering, he 
takes the cross from his cross-bearer, and seats himself at the 
lower end of the hall, HERBERT and FITZ-STEPHEN sitting 
at his feet. 

A COURTIER (to Gilbert of London). 
Lo, where your primate enters, cross in hand, 
As though to chase a host of fiends malignant ! 


The man was born a fool, and fool will die : 
At dawn this day he said St. Stephen's mass, 
* Sederunt principes.' invoking next 
St. Edward, king and saint. 

HENRY OF WINTON (to Roger of York). 
The primate's face 

Hath in it light, yet storm. The crisis comes : 
This day he '11 shake the world. 

68 Thomas a Becket. ACT n. 


The man, late sick, 

Hath left his sick bed, whole. 

( The KING enters, and takes his seat on the throne. ) 

What means yon cross ? 
Am I a Pagan, that the Holy Sign 
Must guard a vassal of my throne against me ? 


It guards the faith of Christ ; and well He knows, 
Whose eyes adorable through all things pierce, 
The cross of Christ was never needfuller 
Than in this hall, and now. 

[ The King leaves his throne suddenly, and returns to his apart- 
ments, followed by most of the bishops. 


What 's this ? My lords, I say that in your midst 
There sits a traitor proven ! 


A manifest traitor ! 

(Shouts of ' Treason ! ' fill the hall ; the tramp of armed men is 
heard in the court and the passages adjoining the hall, and 
men in armour are seen at the doors. ) 


Thomas a Becket. 69 

HERBERT (in a low voice to Beckef). 
Father, have ready in your hand the Sentence : 
The storm will break upon you. 


Silence, sir ! 

(FiTZ-STEPHEN turns his eyes on BECKET, and then raises them 
to the crucifix at the end of the hall, on which BECKET at 
once fixes his own. ) 

A BARON (entering, addressing Becket}. 
My lord, the king demands if you acknowledge 
That sentence of the court on Friday last, 
Which charged upon your head those moneys lodged, 
While you were chancellor, in the Chancery, 
And claimed them at your hands ? 


You have reached your goal, 
Sir, by well-meted stages. Thursday last, 
Mine enemies, seeking pretence to slay me, 
Placed at one side the question of the Customs, 
And urged but personal pleas. First, John the 


He, riot long since, had sued me for a farm, 
In mine own court ; and, to the king's appealing, 
Plucked from his vest a book of ribald songs, 

7O Thomas a Becket. ACT IT . 

On that, and not the Gospels, making oath. 

Sirs, was this law, or mockery of all law ? 

Not less your parliament, as you know, amerced 

me ; 

And I submitted. Next they brought in charge 
The one time rents of Berkhampstead and Eye : 
I spent them on those castles' just repairs, 
As all men knew ; not less the parliament 
Fined me three hundred pounds ; and I submitted, 
My Lord of Gloucester for that sum my bail. 
The king demanded next a thousand marks, 
A loan long past : he knows I spent that gold, 
And thrice as much, mine own, upon his wars. 
Then came his last demand revenues stored 
In Chancery long since, and rents of abbeys, 
Full thirty thousand marks. That claim set forth, 
My Lord of Winton raised those aged hands 
Which poured on me the unction, and appealed ; 
6 Ho ! ye that saw and heard, witness this day ! 
His see was given to him absolved, and free 
From all pretence of obligations past, 
By lips of the king's son ! ' My lords, that hour 
My knights fell from me, and my clerics fled; 
And of my bishops one now near me cried, 
* Would thou wert Thomas only, not archbishop ! ' 
But with me God remained. 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 7 1 


My lord, your answer 


Sir, to your question answer thus I make : 
I pay no more false debts. Lords, to my king 
I stand by nature bound bound by my homage, 
Bound by my oath, and bound not less by love. 
I know his virtues, and his princely heart ; 
Remember well his benefits of old : 
My king I honour honouring more my God. 
My lords, they lie who brand mine honest fame 
With fealty halved. With doubly-linked allegiance 
He serves his king who serves him for God's sake ; 
But who serves thus must serve his God o'er all. 
I served him thus, and serve. 


You serve the king ! 

Who stirred these wars? Who spurned the Royal 
Customs ? 


The Customs, aye, the Customs ! We have reached 
At last 't was time the inmost of this plot, 
Till now so deftly veiled and ambushed; 'Customs!' 
O specious word, how plausibly abused ! 

72 Thomas a Becket. ACT n. 

In Catholic ears that word is venerable, 

To Catholic souls custom is law itself; 

Law that its own foot hears not, dumbly treading 

A velvet path, smoothed by traditions old. 

I war not, sirs, with ways traditionary ; 

The Church of Christ herself is a tradition ; 

Aye, but 't is God's tradition, not of men ! 

Sir, these your Customs are God's Laws reversed, 

Traditions making void the Word of God, 

Old innovations from the first withstood, 

The rights of Holy Church, the poor man's portion, 

Sold, and for nought, to aliens. Customs ! Customs ! 

Custom was that which to the lord o' the soil 

Yielded the virgin one day wedded ! Customs ! 

A century they have lived ; but he ne'er lived, 

The man that knew their number or their scope, 

Where found, by whom begotten, or how named : 

Like malefactors, long they hid in holes ; 

They walked in mystery like the noontide pest ; 

In the air they danced; they lived on breath of princes, 

Largest when princes' lives were most unclean, 

And visible most when rankest was the mist. 

Sirs, I defy your Customs ; they are nought ; 

From them I turn to our old English laws, 

The Confessor's, and theirs who went before him, 

The charters old, and sacred oaths of kings : 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 73 

I clasp the Tables twain of Sinai ; 
On them I lay my palms, my breast, my forehead, 
And on the altars dyed by martyrs' blood, 
Making to God appeal. 

LEICESTER (to Cornwall). 

My lord, return we ; 

This matter takes a range beyond our powers : 
Behoves us bear the king his Grace's answer. 

\They depart. 

Why sits he not among us ? Lo, his throne ! 
This cross should be its stay. I know the king : 
Saints of his stock this hour in heaven befriend him ! 
But with man's spirit, alas, a tempter strives, 
That never loved Christ's cross ! 


Stigand, proud priest, 
Was such as you ; like his will be your doom ! 

( The bishops return from the king's apartments with signs of terror. ) 

Hence ! lest we see the proud man's doom. Attendance ! 

GILBERT (to Becket}. 

My lord, your pardon ! You have placed your 

74 Thomas a Becket. ACT n. 

This day between the hammer and the anvil ; 
At Clarendon the Customs you received, 
This day you spurn them. 


You have heard, my lords, 

That partial truth which more envenoms falsehood. 
May shame deserved be my sin's expiation ! 
At Clarendon I sinned thus much all know ; 
Few know the limit of that sin, and fewer 
The threefold fraud that meshed me in that sin, 
From which, like weeping Peter, I arose, 
To fall, I trust, no more. My lords, that day 
There came to me two Templars from the king, 
Who sware his Highness inwardly was racked 
That, snared by flatterers, he had made demands 
Which, for his honour's sake, he could not cancel, 
Yet which, if yielded but in phrase by us, 
Should vex the Church no further. I refused. 
Came next the papal envoy from Aumone, 
With word the Pope, moved by the troublous time, 
Willed my submission to the royal will. 
This was the second fraud ; remains the third. 
My lords, the Customs named till then were few ; 
In evil hour I yielded pledged the Church, 
Alas ! to what I knew not. On the instant 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 75 

The king commanded, ' Write ye down these Laws : ' 

And soon, too soon, a parchment pre-ordained 

Upon our table lay a scroll inscribed 

With usages sixteen, whereof most part 

Were shamefuller than the worst discussed till then. 

My lords, too late I read that scroll. I spurned it ; 

I sware by Him who made the heavens and earth 

That never seal of mine should touch that bond, 

Not mine, but juggle-changed. My lords, that eve 

A truthful servant, and a fearless one, 

Who bears my cross and taught me too to bear one 

Probed me and proved with sharp and searching words, 

And as the sun my sin before me stood. 

My lords, for forty days I kept my fast, 

And held me from the offering of the mass, 

And sat in sackcloth ; till the Pope sent word, 

'Arise ; be strong, and walk/ And I arose, 

And hither came ; and here confession make 

That till the cleansed leper once again 

Takes, voluntary, back his leprosy, 

I with those Royal Customs stain no more 

My soul which Christ hath washed. 

(The barons return from the king, and advance to BECKET, who 
retains his seat ; at their head CORNWALL and LEICESTER. ) 


My lord, the king commands that on the instant 

j6 Thomas a Becket. ACT IL 

You render up accounts of moneys lodged, 
Whilst you were chancellor, in the Chancery ; 
If not, attend your sentence ! 


Son and earl, 

Hear first your father, and the king's. How well 
I loved that king, how faithfully I served him, 
Is known to you and all. You said, I think, 
The king had sent you hither with a sentence ; 
Son, by a mandate from the King of Kings, 
By virtue of mine office, and that power 
It gives me through the laws of Christendom, 
I bar you from the uttering of that sentence, 
And seal your lips with silence. 


Speak it thou, 
My Lord of Leicester. 


Nay, my lord, not I. 

I dare not touch a priest. The hand, moreover, 
Which clasps yon cross, in battle saved my life. 

CORNWALL (about to return to the king). 
Your Grace will here abide 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 77 


Am I a bondsman ? 


St. Lazarus ! no, my lord. 


My son, attend ! 

By how much man's imperishable soul 
Exceeds in worth his body, by so much 
Beseems you to obey the King of Heaven 
Above all earthly lords. Nor law, nor reason, 
Nor human precedent, nor faith divine, 
Endures that children should condemn their sire. 
Wherefore this judgment of a king that errs 
I from me cast, and, under God, appeal 
To Peter's chair, and him who sits thereon ; 
Placing beneath his shield my life, mine honour, 
And Canterbury's church. My fellow-bishops. 
This day the vassals not of God but man, 
You too I summon to that high award ; 
And thus, protected by the Holy See, 
I hence depart. 

(BECKET rises > and, still bearing his cross, moves toward the gates.} 

DE BROC {from the gates). 

He flies ! cut down the traitor ! 

78 Thomas a Becket. ACT n. 

BECKET (looking back}. 

Caitiff and coward ! How well thou know'st this hand 
Is knightly now no more. 

\He departs ; the barons and courtiers standing still, 
and none daring to arrest him. 



The lion 's loose ! I see it in your eye ! 


Sire, he is fled. Last evening was his triumph : 

The people, as he issued hence (their crime, 

The fools that should have held him fast) knelt down, 

Craving his blessing. In St. Andrew's convent 

He chaunted nones, and vespers first ; then dined, 

Ranging the poor, the halt, the lame, the dumb, 

Around his board, in place of friends who fled. 

When night descended, sanctuary he took 

In the great church : they strewed his rushy bed 

Behind the altar, and with stinted rite 

Sang compline low in reverence of his sleep 

SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. 79 

After his fight with beasts at Ephesus. 

Ere break of day he 'scaped, and none know whither, 

Helped by the headlong rain, and stormy dark. 

Reach he but France, from every turf he treads 

A knight full-armed shall leap, and rage against you. 


Guard all the ports ! each castle, fort, and village : 
Who favours his escape shall die the death ! 
That cross which yesterday preserved the traitor 
Has done him its last service. Captured once, 
He lives thenceforth in chains 1 

8o Thomas a Becket. 





Once more a world before me, and a foot 
Strenuous to tread it ! Twelve hours past, each moment 
My fancy gasped in dungeon vaults eterne. 
Thanks be to God, and help of praying Saints, 
A free man's step is mine. Fair land of France ! 
How bright a sunshine lives upon thy brow ! 
How laugh in light those upland plains ! How sweet 
That song of youth and maid ! My mother England, 
Be thou not wroth against thine exiled son, 
Against his will exultant ; God Who proves us 
Wills us not less our triumph's little hour. 
That time, that time shall come, my mother England, 
When, with a mightier joy, thy son returned, 
Shall hail thy hoary cliffs, the invader's dread ; 
Thy fields, and farms, and forests, convent- crowned ; 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 8 1 

Thy minsters gathering, as the parent bird 

Gathers her young, the growing cities round them ; 

Thine honest, valiant, and industrious race, 

So christian-like in manners and in mind, 

So grave in deeds, and yet so merry-hearted, 

And in their plainness kind, once more shall greet 


With mightier joy, though hastening to his death, 
Than now he greets his freedom. 


Father, whither? 
For here the roads divide to Paris this. 


My steps are to St. Peter's successor. 
Forward to Sens ! (To his guide.} 

My pretty sun-burnt guide, 
Farewell to thy bright eyes, and way-side songs ! 
Thanks for good service done ; and thanks the more 
For service without fee ! 


My reverend father, 

For love, not gold, I served thee. Therefore thou 
Love me in turn, and give me one gold piece 
From love's good will, or little silver brooch, 

82 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

To prick in me memory of those great words. 
Thou spak'st of Heaven ! 


Ha ! subtle-witted knave, 

Was that thy meaning ? Kneel, and wear this cross ; 
My blessing with it. Up and fare thee well ! 



No need of pleading, sirs : I know the man : 

I met him first breasting the tides of war, 

And more admired, than joyed to see, his banner, 

That still made way when others tacked and veered 

On that large-labouring sea. In peace I found him 

A loyal man, and honest, lofty- souled, 

And resolute in his purpose. Never father 

So loved, methought, a son, as he his king, 

Who brave, but erring, plays this day a part 

Not knightly, and not Christian. Sirs, he 's hot, 

And notes, methinks, but half of that great word, 

'Be wroth, yet sin not/ Send me here your primate ! 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 83 


'T is like a king ! 


My friend, France glories still 
To welcome noble foes. 


May it please your Highness, 
The primate stands resolved to light no flame 
Betwixt two kings now happily at one : 
Not therefore lacks he grateful heart to France, 
That great old land which shall not cease from greatness 
While faithful to its God. He hastes to Sens. 


I love the man, or distant, or close by, 
Knowing him injured, and esteeming just. 
Tell him no girl-lip in my France hath ever 
Trembled more sweetly ere it owned the truth, 
Than this old heart for joy when came the news 
He trod our shores secure. 

G 2 

84 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


POPE ALEXANDER III. in consistory with the Cardinals. 
BECKET, HERBERT OF BOSHAM, and other English 


Most holy father, vicar of our Lord, 
And ye the princely senate of the Church, 
Too long, and naming far too oft myself. 
Your patience I have taxed. Yet this I deemed, 
That, kings impugning, it beseemed me likewise 
To blame my proper sin at Clarendon, 
And justice do to him who did me wrong. 
His ' Royal Customs/ new compared with her, 
Whose years are from of old, have precedents 
Which show but late their teeth. Abuse was borne 
When tyrants played the kitten, not the tiger. 
To make exception law, concede of right 
Whate'er past time, enforced or heedless, suffered, 
This were with fraudulent gloss history to wrest 
As heretics wrest Scripture. 


Justly reasoned 
Him that like Charlemagne upraised the Church 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. 85 

The Church might trust : Antiochus, or Herod, 
Shall have his right ; not more ! 


I grant this also; 

O'er-ripe corruption breeds foretold disease : 
Church wealth abounds; it brought the hireling rirst, 
It brings the spoiler now. 


My lord archbishop, 

Though young in the episcopate, is wise ; 
* Where lies the carcase, there the eagles flock : ; 
Noting that truth, his Grace would share our wealth 
With nobles and with kings. 


My lord, not so ! 

In troubled days like these, if bandit barons, 
Fierce from the cup, rode forth o'er waste and wild 
All unconfronted by the Church's barons, 
Like them large-landed, and with knights in train, 
The landless priest should keep not his own skin. 
We must hold all or nought. 


I understand not : 

My lord the archbishop, late, at Clarendon 
Connived, he said 

86 Thomas a Becket. 



Brother, forbear that theme ! 
The primate made the Christian expiation, 
In sackcloth and in ashes, forty days. 


My lord went later to a second council : 

Of that he hath not spoken ; bid him speak. 

What council ? 


At Northampton it was held : 

There, fooled no longer, I denounced those Customs 
Whereof last eve I laid the list new- writ 
For judgment at your footstool. 


1 have read them. 

Six might be borne, though bad : the rest are impious ; 
Servile to kings, seditious 'gainst the Church, 
False to her lord. The sacraments themselves, 
The sacred keys, the discipline divine, 
They subject to the will of temporal powers ; 
They crush the free election of the bishops ; 
They bar appeal to this most Holy See, 
My glory, which I yield not to another, 

E in. Thomas a Becket. 87 

The safety of the meanest of Christ's flock. 

That great appeal removed, by secular hands 

The arteries of the Church were knotted up, 

And into fragments torn that sacred body 

Whose life is in the whole. For this cause, God 

Diffused among all realms one single Church, 

That unity might be its life's true pledge, 

Too vast by any to be slain, or chained. 

That Church enslaved, what next ? The Faith must 

vanish ! 

For on the Church's witness rests the truth, 
And if that Church be stifled in the embrace 
Of any fleshly realm engulfed absorbed 
Who shall receive her words ? 


Yea verily, 

From the whale's belly when the prophet speaks, 
Who hears is quick of ear. 


This sin of kings 
Is gendered of their pride. 


The realm of such 
Ere long shall be partaker with the worm ; 

88 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

The blind-worm is its sister, and corruption 
Its mother, and the dust its winding-sheet ; 
For power, earth-born, shall back once more to earth. 
O witless kingdoms ! scorn ye then that kingdom, 
Forth from whose womb ye issued still your stay, 
The sole not born from mortal lust or pride ; 
The kingdom of one God in Persons Three ; 
The kingdom of a universe redeemed ; 
The kingdom of humanity assumed ; 
The kingdom of the creed and of the prayer ; 
The kingdom of commandments just and wise ; 
The kingdom of the three great virtues winged 
Which gaze on heaven ; the eight beatitudes ; 
The sacraments, those seven great gates of God 
Betwixt the worlds of spirit and flesh ; the kingdom 
Wherein God's angels wait upon His poor, 
And all men share one good ! An injury is it. 
That this fair kingdom should be wide as earth, 
Citied on all the mountains of this world, 
Rehearsal, glory-touched, of that great City 
Which waits us in the heavens ? Enough of this. 
My lord, what saith your England to these Customs? 


I deem the people sound : gravely they love 
Their ancient laws and immemorial freedom. 

m . Thomas a Becket. 89 

The nobles, save the noblest, back the king : 
Their faith stands fast ; but all too lax their morals 
To love a righteous law. 

How stand your clergy ? 


The poor are true, the rich are panic-stricken : 

We have corruptions: I had hoped ere now 

To have pruned the worst away : they grow and 

My sin has found me out ! 


Your sin ? What sin ? 


The king, who willed that I should be archbishop, - 
Was urgent with the Canterbury monks : 
They raised no plaint ; yet some denied their free- 

More late I too had doubts. To break my staff 
In danger's hour had been a coward's part. 
The danger 7 s past ; this hour I lodge that staff 
In the strong hand of Peter's successor ; 
Be his to make decision. 

(The cardinals converse among themselves.} 

go Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


Holy Father, 

Methinks the island prelate judges well ; 
More sagely speaks he than King Henry's envoy 
Whose Latin raised, last eve, a passing smile. 
King Henry's wrath once lulled 


it shall not be ! 
The Church gives honour this the world should 


To those who honour her. This English primate 
Who chides himself for lacking angel's heart, 
Witnessed a man's heart in the Church's war ; 
She shall not fail him. Fit he is for rule : 
His valour proved it, and his meekness proved it, 
Bearing from one that served him just rebuke, 
As Peter bare from Paul, and, since his time, 
Popes many in this chair from humblest teachers. 
Brother, resume your charge, and reign once more 
In that fair see he founded who of old 
From Gregory's convent and the Coelian Hill 
Descended to your England. For this fight, 
Which shall not prove a flying season's sport, 
All qualities are yours, save one discretion. 
Your life was long a life of courts, and camps, 
And splendours of this world : at Pontigny, 


Thomas a Becket. 9 1 

A holier seat, find rest. Its reverend abbot 
Will give you welcome. 


Happy house is ours, 
Welcoming a confessor ! 


The fast monastic, 

The ascetic garb, and labour in the fields 
Teach me humility ! 


You shall not miss it ; 
Your sacred habit be it mine to send : 
It shall be honest serge. 


HUGH DE MOREVILLE, courtiers and ladies. 


As good as dead ! 


The three-days'-strangled dog 
But fouls the air ; his bark is heard no more. 

92 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


At Sens the Sacred College frowned upon him, 
The Pope disfrocked ; the traitor fled by night 
To mate him with the antipope : to-day 
He lies in dungeon bound. 


Some swear he 's mad ; 
I think he 's wedded. 


No ; though secularised ; 
He keeps a Flemish farm. 

FITZ-URSE (to de Broc, entering). 

What news from home ? 

Some three weeks since you won the king's permission 
To drive that traitor's kin from England's shores. 

I bide my time. When falls the winter snow, 

That vermin brood shall face it. 



Month by month 
His hate grows stronger. 


Aye, there 's cause for that. 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 93 

The ravished Church lands and the heiress 'scaped ? 


And cause beside. On some pretence of law 

De Broc drave forth Idonea from the house 

Of Beckefs sister Becket three months primate. 

The maid took sanctuary in Canterbury. 

Instant they sued her as a royal ward ; 

Judgment against her went. The day had come, 

And round the minster knights and nobles watched : 

Rang out the chimes ; then slowly from the gate 

Becket walked forth, the maiden by his side ; 

Aye, but her garb conventual showed the nun ! 

They frowned, but dared no more. The King was 


And yet in part amused. De Broc arrived, 
With face storm-black. Henry burst forth in laughter; 
The infection spread we laughed till heaven's broad 


Laughed back to hear us. Well, de Broc 's my friend, 
And reason is that hate in him should prosper. 

94 Thomas a Becket. 


abbot and monks. 


Praise be to God, and praise to her, His daughter, 

This abbey, chaste and kind, of Pontigny, 

That washed the wanderer's weary feet, and found 

A country for the exile ! Reverend abbot, 

I longed for this immersed in secular cares, 

I longed for this throned on Augustine's seat, 

A still retreat for penitence and prayer, 

A quiet cell for books and meditation : 

These things are mine. 


My lord, your holy joy 
To us is both a kindling and a warning : 
Our life is hard ; you teach us hardest life 
Should be the sweetest. Heavenly is our hope ; 
Your joy reminds us that even now our heaven, 
An outer circle, girds the earth we tread, 
Had we but faith to feel it. O my lord ! 
God grant that custom harden not in you 
That sense to-day so tender ; for, the edge 

SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. 95 

Of spiritual sensibilities made blunt, 
Our spiritual world becomes a leaf frost-curled ; 
Not all the songs of angel hosts can charm us ; 
We starve 'mid manna showers. 


I have put aside 

The canon law, and study lore dogmatic : 
It better feeds the soul. The convent walls 
Of Paris rise before me as of old : 
Sure \ is a holy city ! 


Once it was. 


My mother, when I went to Paris first, 
A slender scholar bound on quest of learning, 
Girdling my gown collegiate, wept full sore ; 
Then laid on me this hest ; both early and late 
To love Christ's Mother and the poor of Christ, 
That so her prayer in heaven and theirs on earth, 
Like angels by me as I walked its streets, 
Might shield me from its sins. 


Men say your mother 
Loved the poor well, and still on festivals, 

96 Thomas a Becket. ACT nr. 

Laying her growing babe in counter-scale, 
Heaped up an equal weight of clothes and food, 
Which unto them she gave. 


She trained my sister 

To live an angel on the earth. Lo, there ! 
The red morn widens through the falling snows, 
And the storm rocks your towers ! What then ? The 


Once more will come and wake that earliest flower 
Whose white is purer for its rim of green ; 
The thrush once more will sing. 


Your sycamore, 

Large-leaved, again will roof you as you read 
Those psalms that shook the Solomonian Temple. 
The apostolic letters which made glad 
The young and foe-girt churches of the Lord, 
And, dearer yet, the gospels whose warm lips 
Still kiss the Saviour's footsteps as he moves 

O'er earth. 


And learn at last to be a Christian ! 

A MONK (entering). 
A messenger, my lord. The Holy Father 

SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. 97 

Has sent that promised habit to his Grace, 
Likewise these letters. 


"By St. David, good ! 

The hood is filled with snow ! The Pope knows well 
Some heads are hot ! 


I kiss this habit's edge ; 
Herbert, what say the letters ? 

HERBERT (reading). 

' At one blow 

King Henry confiscates the primate's goods, 
Farms, manors, castles, rents.' 


Now God be praised ! 

HERBERT (reading}. 

1 His name is blotted from the service-books ; 
Lastly, his friends are banished, kith and kin, 
The old, the young, the cleric and the lay, 
Widows and babes in arms, four hundred all; 
His sister, sickness- worn ; the nun Idonea ; 
This day they plough the bleak, snow-blinded sea, 
Oath-bound, to bear their wail beneath the gates 
Of him their exile's cause, so named.' 

98 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


Hark, hark ! 

ANOTHER MONK (rushing Ml). 

A famished English host is wailing round us ! 
They beat the gates ; they swarm into the courts ; 
They bear with them a woman three hours dead, 
And clamour for the archbishop. 




Chiefly for pride his enemies arraign him : 
Great madam, pride not always is a vice : 
His pride is pride a son may well be proud of: 
He says, i The daughter of earth's wisest king 
Was greatest when she put her greatness off; 
Is greater now, ruling through this strong arm, 
Than if, as once, she from her standard shook 
Dominion on the winds.' 


King Henry's daughter 
Should know some policy. I have lived, and reigned, 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 99 

Done much, borne much, and in these later years 
Much striven to win that docile heart which makes 
Affliction's fruit, experience, profitable. 
My end, they say, approaches. Till it comes 
My counsel is my son's. 


His Highness grieves 

He walked not by that counsel touching Becket, 
Who, changed from better promise, plots, and schemes, 
Made blind by lust of power, and greed beside 
Of gold which perisheth. 


He lives in exile ; 

Watches by night, and toils all day afield, 
In witness 'gainst the Customs. 


Pardon, lady ; 

He fled from England, not for conscience' sake, 
But debtor fearing doom. 


It may be so : 

Much that I know of Thomas I mislike ; 
But chiefly from his foes my knowledge comes : 
Such knowledge I mistrust. 
H 2 

TOO Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


A CHAMBERLAIN (entering}. 

May it please your Highness, 
A priest from Pontigny. 

(JOHN OF SALISBURY enters accompanied by a veiled mm.} 

You are come, I think, 
Sir, from that abbey where the primate late 
Of England, lives recluse ? 


Illustrious lady, 

The primate hath not ceased to be the primate. 
In Oxford, madam, that religious seat, 
When learning, tested, mounts the grades of merit, 
Men say it graduates. Virtue, like learning, 
Boasts its degrees of merit, tried and proved : 
Its university is wide as earth : 
My lord the primate hath proceeded exile ; 
The next degree, who knows ? 


I honour, sir, 

Your frank, yet grave accost : I honour, too, 
What under it I note, a loving zeal 
For him you call your friend. Scant friends to me 
Your primates and your prelates proved in England. 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 101 

My father king, to me they made their oath ; 
My father dead, they crowned revolted Stephen : 
And though the usurper's brother, Henry of Winton, 
More late my champion proved that arm of might 
Which waved my banner o'er the English realm 
He wrung from me concessions first; and, last, 
Condoned his brother's crime and re-enthroned him. 


Madam, that time erroneous, and unblest- 


Back to our theme. I never loved your primate : 

I deemed him for my son a dangerous friend, 

Albeit an honest one. His elevation 

I strenuously withstood. I saw in Thomas 

One that, installed in Canterbury's chair, 

Might shake a younger throne. I would your primate 

Had let the Royal Customs be, and warred 

Against the ill customs of the Church. 'T is shame 

To ordain a clerk in name that lacks a cure, 

Whom idleness must needs ensnare in crime ; 

Scandal and worse to screen an erring clerk, 

More fearing clamour than the cancer slow 

Of inly- wasting sin. Scandal it is 

When seven rich benefices load one priest 

Likeliest his soul's damnation. 

IO2 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


Scandals indeed ! 

And no true friend to Thomas is the man 
Who palliates such abuses. For this cause, 
Reluctantly he grasped Augustine's staff, 
Therewith to smite them down. Madam, the men 
Who brand them most are those who breed the 
. - ^ can da Is, 

Now forcing hirelings into holy seats, 
Now keeping without pastors widowed sees : 
On such the primate warred. The king, to shield 

Invoked the Royal Customs. 


Some are old. 


Old by the Norman reckoning, not the Saxon. 


Sir, sir, I know that cry my throne it cost me ! 
Penitent London, with the prodigal's zeal, 
Had spread to me its arms ; rebellion's head 
Lay bruised beneath my feet ; one common joy 
Beamed from the fronts of cleric, noble, serf : 
Sir, 'mid this new-born zeal a shout arose 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 103 

' The laws of good King Edward, not the Norman ! ' 
I spurned that cry, and scarce escaped with life ; 
Return we to those Customs. Some are old. 


Madam, at heart all sin is old as Cain. 
What profit, lady, on the Judgment Day, 
If kings that erred can say, c By lineal right 
That sin to me hereditary came, 
And I entailed it on my latest heir ? ' 
Save save your son ! 


The king advised not with me. 
How many are those Customs you condemn ? 


Madam, sixteen are registered. Lo ! one : 
' We suffer not appeal to Peter's chair/ 
Madam, Christ said to Peter, ' Strengthen thou 
Thy brethren.' Later, l Feed my sheep and lambs/ 
Shall England's Church, Augustine's child and Rome's, 
Be sundered from his aid ? 


Now, God forbid ! 


The next : ' No bishop shall depart the realm 

IO4 Thomas a Becket. A ci 

Without the king's consent/ Such laws in force, 
Church councils are no more. 


That Custom 's novel ! 


The next : ' No baron holding from the Crown, 
Whatever his crime, shall feel the Church's censure 
Without the king's approval.' Madam, Christ 
Gave to the Church His keys, and bade her use them, 
That so her precinct virgin might remain 
From foot impure. The great exempt, the mean 
Must needs their license share. 


That Custom 's old, 

Yet never should be used to shelter sinners: 
The Church is mistress of her sacraments ; 
Else were God's temple to a tavern changed, 
Or den of thieves. 


The next : ' When bishoprics 
Are vacant, till the king hath willed the election 
Their rents with him remain/ 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 105 

JOHN OF OXFORD (rising), 

May it please your Highness, 
Humbly I take my leave. 


Sir, fare you well ! 
\John of Oxford departs. 

These Customs are in part of recent date ; 
In part are ancient, and throughout are strained : 
My son has erred, enrolling them as laws ; 
Not thus my father wrought has erred besides 
Requiring from the bishops pledge to keep them : 
We kept, till now, rule and exception both, 
Which housed together in uneasy friendship : 
Your primate errs, I think, in nobler sort : 
Let him endure the earlier of those Customs, 

So they remain unwrit. 



Madam, your words 
Are truth and peace. 


I ever loved truth well ; 
Alas, not peace ! Yet gladly, ere I die, 
Would I have portion with the peace-makers. 

io6 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

I will not more detain you, sir. Commend me 
Unto my lord the primate. 


Royal lady, 

This youthful nun Idonea is her name, 
And something of her history may have reached you 
Is missioned with a message to your ear. 
The maid is true : may God protect your Highness ! 

\John of Salisbury bows low, and departs. 

I pray you lift your veil : that hand, I think, 
Derives from ancient lineage, and like light 
Shows on your sable garb. 

(IDONEA lifts her veil. ) 

There ; s rest in gazing 

Upon a countenance nor by passions marred, 
Nor fretted by perplexities of thought. 
You are older than you seem. You have known grief, 
But mourned nor husband dead nor lover false : 
I deem you orphan. 


I have lost my parents. 


And recently, I think? 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 107 


My second mother 

Expired but few weeks since. She was of those 
Exiled of late the primate's widowed sister ; 
In the great storm she died. 


That churl de Broc 
Outstepped his warrant. 


'Mid celestial choirs 

One note is added to her song on earth 
The sweetest ! I have heard it in my dreams, 
And walked the long day after as on air. 
Not now she sings alone the peace of heaven, 
The bliss of Saints ; she sings their joy not less 
Who share on earth the Saviour's crown of thorns. 
What other joy like that of sacrifice ? 
Without it love were nought. In death she lay, 
A lovely shape that seemed to smile in sleep, 
And placid as the snowy fields around. 
Her brother raised this crucifix from her breast, 
And bade me bear it to you. ' Let her wear it 
In death/ he said, ' and it will bring her peace ; 
And, wearing it, let her win back her son, 
Who walks in ways of death/ 

io8 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


Flatterers, not friends, 
Are now my son's advisers. I could wish 
That late born hatred 'twixt him and the primate 
Changed to old love. 


O lady, deem it not ! 

The primate hate your son ! How many a time 
Have I not heard him praise the king's high heart ; 
His wit at years when others chase their follies; 
His prescient thought ; his knowledge won from all, 
Drawn in with every breath ; his wind-like swiftness, 
Now here, now there ; persistence iron-nerved, 
Pliant at need, but with resilience still 
Back- springing to a purpose of that height 
Which makes ambition virtue. From him shake 
But two fierce passions which convulse his spirit 
(Anger was one, he did not name the other), 
No prince there reigns like him. 


The heart of Thomas 
Was ever large ; that know I well. 


Full oft 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. . 109 

I have heard him cast the royal horoscope : 

' Let him be England's king, a child of England ! 

If all the world beside were his for realm, 

The solid centre 's there : his home be England ! 

Let him sun out its virtues with his love ; 

Strike off its bonds ; unite its rival races ; 

Restore old usages ; replant the poor 

In those huge forests now the hunter's spoil ; 

Be loved at English hearths ! ' 


My son's ambition 
Hath wider scope than England. 


That ambition, 

The primate says, may likewise reach its goal 
If so God wills it, and the weal of man. 
He too may build, like Charlemagne, true empire, 
If loyal, like that earlier, unto Christ, 
Rebuild, besides, God's realm in Holy Land : 
All this is in his hope. 


Who hopes so much 

Must love my son. I also hope for him 
Hope, but with fear. In Thomas he had found 

no Thomas a Becket. ACT IIU 

At least an honest friend, and fearless one : 
Thomas is Norman half; English by culture; 
And Norman daring wed with English truth 
Hath in him bred a hardy race of virtues. 


A mother's counsel 


He revered it once : 

That queen of his hath slain his reverence ; 
That woman with five realms and fifty devils, 
Who witched him to her love. She loved him never ; 
And with her strident voice and angry eyes 
Scared from her soon his heart. A faithfuller husband 
Had been obsequious less. A wife ! a wife ! 
You on whose brows virginity is throned 
Are liker to a wife than Eleanor ! 
In that obdurate will, and lawless humour, 
And shallow heart, despite all marriage bonds, 
Wifehood's true spirit had been impossible 
Even had she loved him well ! A married mistress 
Let such be called. Prop me this pillow, child, 
And put from you that wildered, frightened look. 
My father him I loved the most on earth ; 
If wars 1 moved, if these thin fingers clutched 


Thomas a Becket. i 1 1 

The sceptre all too tight, 't was for this cause, 
Because his hand had held it ! 


Gracious lady- 


Come near, and lay your lily cheek near mine ; 
But touch not mine, or yours will catch its fever. 
Fix now your eyes on yonder winding Seine, 
Seen 'twixt the crowded city towers. Mark there 
How yon unladen barks run down the river : 
So lightly issues forth our youth's emprise 
Full-sailed to shores unknown. Mark next how slowly 
Those barges cargo-burthened mount the stream 
With painful toil, and oars that keep not time ; 
Thus youth gone by fortunes fulfilled oppress us ; 
The tide against us works. 


Lady, our pains 

Are helpfuller than our joys ; they lead to God ; 
And in the fulness of that joy He gives 
Is no deceit. 


Where lodge you, child ? 

H2 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


I know not. 


Rest then in yonder convent, sunset-gilt : 
I built it, and they love me. Ere you sleep 
Give me a prayer. Our faith remains ; our prayer 
Grows cold with age at least the prayer of princes. 
Maid, I have heard your name ; seen you ere now, 
But know not where. The Pope hath sent me missives, 
Praying mine intercession with my son ; 
He hath it \ but in limits. Child, farewell ! 

\Idonea kneels, kisses the Empress* hand, and withdraws. 



Still, by my soul, I think he may be honest : 
The fraudulent are the weak ; the king, we know, 
Is strong alike in body and in mind. 


But not, alas ! in spirit. ' Strength to bring forth/ 

SCENE vii. Thomas a Becket. 113 

The lack of faith is oftenest lack of strength, 

Of spiritual strength lack, too, of spiritual courage : 

Worldlings are all too craven to believe. 

This king lacks faith, and knows not. that he lacks it ; 

He still was superstitious more than godly : 

Seeing he sees not, and in blindness thus 

Tramples his good. His youth had soaring aims 


Still unfulfilled. We must have patience with him ! 
God gives to man his threescore years and ten, 
Then patient stands to see if in those years 
His snail-paced creature makes one hour's advance. 
I counted patience once man's humblest virtue : 
I grow to count it of God's attributes, 
Well nigh the marvellous most. Return to Henry ! 
His forefathers, like him, when wroth, were mad : 
His empire 's vaster far than theirs ; his pride 
Proportionately entempested. I think it 
I hope it, honest error. 


The spirit of Bernard 

Hangs on this pure and hallowed air. Your brow 
Was furrowed once ; to-day it wears no frown : 
His Holiness did well to send you hither. 


ii4 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


Leisure and peace, and communings with God 
Above the glebe new-turned, when fresh and sweet 
Rises earth's breath, and in the thicket near 
The unimpatient bird-song, evening-lulled, 
Is soberer than at dawn, must help, I think, 
Attuned by daily offices divine, 
And faces calm wherein the chaunt lives on 
When psalms are o'er must help to soften hearts 
How hard soe'er, and softening them, to brighten. 
Here learn we that, except through sin of man, 
There J s evil none on earth not pain, not scorn, 
Not death ! How well they name that stream 

' Serene ! ' 

Serene it wanders from the chestnut forests, 
Serene it whispers through yon orchard bowers, 
Serene it slides along the convent walls : 
It counts the hours ; even now the sun descends, 
And therefore in its breathless mirror glow 
The gold-green pillars of those limes beside it. 
This spot is surely holier than men know ; 
I think some saint died here ! 


Yet here, even here, 
The battle of all ages lies before us ! 


Thomas a Becket. 1 1 5 


Well know I that, my friend. This eve I mused 
On war, with heart at peace. 


Beneath yon beech 
You read a book 


St. Anselm's. Holy souls 
This book hath holier made ; for me, a sinner, 
It serves a humbler part. My lot is war : 
But close beside me scoffs a voice malign, 
4 Thy youth vain- glorious sought the tented field, 
From haughty stomach, or from angry spleen ; 
So now ; for nought thou rend'st the world asunder.' 
In doubt I stand : then comes to me this book, 
And saith, ' Thy cause is Anselm's : who was he ? 
This was no biawler, and no voice of war : 
This was a soul that in the cloistral shade 
Had reached the sixth fair decade of his life, 
O'erstepped the threshold of the eternal Sabbath ; 
This was a virgin spirit one to whom 
Man's praise seemed blot and blame; an infant spirit 
Whose meekness nothing earthly could affront \ 
An angel spirit that, with feet on earth, 

1 1 6 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

Saw still God's face in heaven: 

Certes he sought no battles ; yet he found them ; 

Long agonies of conflict in old age, 

An exiled man, or fronting hostile kings.' 

The tempter leaves me ; and my strength returns ; 

But lo, Guarine, our abbot ! 


Slow his step : 
He comes ; yet halts. 


I know what makes him sad : 
The king has sworn, unless they drive me hence, 
To lay on each Cistercian house in England 
That hand which cannot reach to Pontigny. 
Solve we this good man's doubt. 

THE ABBOT (joining them}. 

Alas, my lord 


My kind and generous friend, we part to-morrow ! 
God wills it thus, not any earthly king : 
We have had our rest. It nerves us for that toil 
Which summons us once more. 

SCENE vii. Thomas a Becket. \ 1 7 


Pavia's bishop 
And Citeaux's abbot fear 


A successor 

Of mine one day in Canterbury's chair, 
Exile, like me, at Pontigny, will help 
To pay my debt of love. Meantime, my friend, 
This work is God's. Draw near me, and hear all. 
The morn your predecessor left this abbey, 
Lifted, reluctant, to the pastoral charge, 
I at St. Stephen's altar said my mass ; 

And, offering my thanksgiving there But no ! 

When next at Lyons, ask my lord archbishop ; 

He stood behind a pillar, and heard all. 

Brother, farewell. God guard this temple well ! 

His Spirit be its light, till Christ shall come 

To judge the world : and if through Satan's fraud, 

The wrath of kings, the madness of the people, 

It suffer wrong, may He with His own hand 

Once more uplift it to a tenfold glory 

Which shall not fail or fade. Once more, farewell. 

1 1 8 Thomas a Becket. 






I am ill at ease, good John. Some fate malignant 

Drags still my fortunes from their starry way 

And drowns them in the mist. His kinsfolk's exile 

Blackened my name with Christendom's abhorrence ; 

The traitor's self, cast forth from Pontigny, 

Stands stronger than before. 

It may be I was rash. So deems my mother, 

A politic head that never loved the priests : 

She warns me to revolt not 'gainst the Church, 

Lest God should rouse my sons, in turn revolted, 

One day to plague their sire. 


May it please you, sir, 
Sickness, a superstitious thing, and death, 
Whose coming shadow casts a ghostly semblance 
On commonest shapes, perturb her mind, else strong. 


My barons in this battle with the Church 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 1 1 9 

Serve me with soul divided. Becket's eye 

Went through them at Northampton. Becket's 

legate : 

Ere long the man will hurl a Censure forth : 
My bishops weep and wail to me to spare them, 
Nor dash them dead against the canon law : 
The Emperor wanes ; his antipope wastes daily : 
The Pope is waxing, and he knows his power. 
I have lit my camp-fires on a frozen flood; 
Methinks, the ice wears thin. 


Retreat is none. 


To Rome then ! Haste ! you head our embassy : 
Within this paper are your orders writ : 
Concession aye, but definite, sharp, and strong, 
Those lines which keep our citadel intact, 
The essence and the pith of all I strove for. 
Be this your chart. 


Sire, if it please your Highness, 
This battle, though a hard one, shall be gained, 
Two things conditioned freedom and a purse. 
Cramp not my movements : definite rules and limits 

1 20 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

I never loved. This day the skilfullest hand 
In tracing such should weave but nets to cage 
Your royal purpose, or a rope to choke it. 
The serpent's finer wisdom helps us oft 
No more than plain simplicity of doves ; 
The fox's vulgarer craft serves then our need. 
Leave terms to me ; but grant me wide credentials : 
Then, when my mission 's over, with my work 
Deal at your will. 


I see it, John. So be it ! 
Hark to that horn ! 


The prince returned from chase! 

(PRINCE HENRY rides up with attendants, bearing a dead stag, 
and stops under the window.} 


Father, against your will or with your will, 

This stag, my first, finds way to my old master ; 

Hate him who likes : I love him ! (gallops on.) 


From that brow 
The sunrise looks of empire ne'er to set ! 


Thomas a Becket. . 121 

For him it is I toil. 

Good John, my recent illness and ill dreams 

Had shaken me some whit ; that ague ? s past : 

See, I tear up this paper ! You are free. 

Of all my foes this man alone, this Becket, 

Hath marred and dwarfed me in my own esteem : 

And for that cause I hate him. Friend, make speed ! 


To Cologne first, your Highness ; then to Rome 
More popes than one to deal with ! 




My patience less hath served him than disserved : 
He stands upon the imminent verge of schism, 
Transacts, conspires, with that revolted prelate 
Who, with the Emperor and his antipope, 
Stands third in Satan's court. Is mine the offence? 
Lo, here mine earliest letter ! 

T 22 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

JOHN OF SALISBURY (reading it}. 

' King and lord, 

Within your realm the Spouse of Christ hath wrong, 
A queen in every kingdom, though a guest. 
Remember, sire, that oath you sware, new-crowned, 
Spreading the parchment on the altar-stone, 
To keep the Church in peace ! Old Theobald 
Blessed you that day: would God that I might bless 

you ! 

Your subject I, and yield you reverence due ; 
Your father, and my duty is to warn.' 
Was that too keen ? 


I deem not so. 


My letters 

Have ever breathed that strain, Last week, in turn, 
Thus writes he to the apostate of Cologne : 
' Pope Alexander, and his cardinals false, 
Who prop that traitor Thomas, from this hour 
Shall boast mine aid no more.' What say ye, sirs ? 


A legate's powers are yours. 

SCENE ix. Thomas a Becket. 123 


I heeded seldom 

My personal wrongs ; but thus to trade with sin, 
In huckstering sort to barter Christian honour, 
Or simulate the crime he dares not act 
I say 't is foul, \ is foul ! 


'At Clarendon 

A second council meets. The bishops there 
Must swear so wills their lord to eschew henceforth 
All laws not royal, all appeals to Rome : 
Our English Church shall stand, with bleeding flank, 
From Christendom down cloven. 

BECKET (rising). 

One time in me 

Passions of earth commixed with zeal divine : 
That time should now be past. At Pontigny 
Two years I kept my vigil and my fast ; 
In reverence touched the dark breast of the earth 
From which we came, to which we shall return : 
My vanities, I trust, are dead. 


They are. 

1 24 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 


Then action's time is come. At Soissons late 
I watched three nights before three saintly shrines, 
Praying for strength. It comes to me this hour. 
England no more shall lie a corse : a spirit 
Shall lift once more that head -blasphemers spurn ; 
To the dried arm the flesh shall come as flesh 
Pure in the child. No more the wail shall rise 
From vacant minsters yea, from Christian babes 
Amerced of Christian food. Bring forth the parch- 
ments ! 

From him, the crowned transgressor, to the least, 
The Censure falls on all. 


Your Grace has heard it ? 
The English king lies sick. 


Lies sick alas ! 
I war not on the sick. 


The king excepted, 

The Censure 's nought. The heart of England burns, 
And waits that stroke which, troubling not allegiance 
In civil things, keeps pure the things of God. 

SCENE x. Thomas a Becket. . 125 

A frost will fall upon that fiery heart, 
The chiefest culprit spared. 


Let come what may, 

I strike not him that 's down. My lord archbishop, 
You come in time to hear the unrighteous banned 
For crimes reiterate and denounced long since. 
We sever from the Church the Church's foes, 
Henceforth to plot outside her. John of Oxford, 
Richard of Ilchester, Thomas Fitz- Bernard, 
Joceline of Salisbury bishop, Hugh St. Clare, 
De Luci, yokemate in the guilt of others, 
Joceline of Ballol, and, of baser sort, 
Bandit, not knight, de Broc, one time a monk. 
Sirs, write ye down the sentence : be it hung 
On all the city gates through France and England ; 
From all the altars be it sounded forth, 
With tapers flung to the earth. 




I have saved you a sea-voyage, good my lord ! 

1 26 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

To London, at your ease ! My lord of Hereford 
May join your homeward way. 


I tell you, John, 

That Censure, like a dragon's tongue in the dust, 
Hath sucked us insects up ! The best is cowed : 
Who swaggered three weeks since, to-day walks softly 
As one that mourns his mother. Bend we must ; 
I fling me at his feet. 


Hear first my news : 

Two legates from the Holy See make speed 
To arbitrate our feuds. Till these have reached us 
The thunders of our earlier legate sleep ; 
I keep my stall at Salisbury. 


Ha ! Henceforth 

Thomas no bishop is of mine for ever ! 
Thy tale, good John ! 


Aye, aye, you '11 hear me now ! 
We found the Holy City black as night, 
The court with iron walled, and barred against us : 
The gold key let me in. 

SCENE x. Thomas a Becket. 127 


You saw the Pope ? 


Saw him, and showed a letter from the king, 
Conceding me full powers ; frankly accepting 
All terms by me accepted. Next I swore 
That compact with the antipope at Cologne 
Against his Highness charged, was false as hell. 
Some youthful cardinal called me c valiant Swearer : ' 
The rest sat statue- still. 


The Holy Father? 


Stately he sat, and cold ; my terms demanded : 
I saw the time for chaffering was gone by : 
1 What terms,' I asked, ' can Christian kings desire, 
Save those the Church ordains ? ' 


You swore to that ? 


Yea, though my brother envoys called me ' traitor : ' 
They railed in English ; so the harm was 'scaped. 
Next swore I that the Customs should surcease : 

128 Thomas a Becket. ACT n 

Last, that with Becket peace should be contracted ; 
The Pope to name conditions. 


He believed you ? 


My praise is greater if he disbelieved, 
Since forced he was to simulate belief ! 
The king will ratify his envoy's oath 
Explained perchance or else at will disown it : 
Meantime our bark is lifted o'er the shoal 
By one great wave I felt it grating twice 
And rides deep waters. 


When the king demands 


I am but envoy ; wits he hath scholastic : 
With such the royal conscience may consult. 


'Gainst Peter's rock I dash henceforth this Becket ; 
Him and his Censures both. 


To London, bishop ! 
And bid the joy bells peal. 


Thomas a Becket. 129 



Your king was fierce against you once, my lord ; 
At last his winter turns to spring. 


He changes : 

His mind's conclusion varies with the times : 
We have a better augury : his heart 
Is good, and only on the good in man 
The better can be built. The king, when crowned 
At Gloucester, laid his crown upon the altar, 
And vowed no more to wear it. Late when sick, 
Deeming death near, he chose for burial-place 
No sepulchre of kings, but some poor church 
Where slept a saint of God. 


Meantime o'er England 

The breath of God hath blown. The Royal Customs 
Find not this hour an adulating tongue. 
The bishops, vassals late of servile fear,' 
Through holier fear have burst that baser bond, 

1 30 Thomas a Becket. ACT IIL 

And rush across the sea to pledge new faith. 

Here comes a friend from Rome; How stand we there? 

If well, then all is well. 

JOHN OF SALISBURY (entering). 

My lord, ill news ! 

The royal Swearer swore his way through all ; 
The cardinals stared, the Holy Father doubted ; 
His doubts were vain ; once more the Swearer swore, 
Alternative was none save hollow peace 
Or war without a foe. 


What swore this Swearer? 


He swore the king should grant the Pope's demands 
How vast soe'er, the Pope appointing legates 
To adjudicate our cause. 


The Pope replied, 

1 Long since, and unsolicited by man, 
My legate I appointed ; he hath judged ; 
Remains but this to enforce a righteous sentence/ 
Replied not thus the Pope ? 


Alas, not so ! 

SCENE xi. Thomas a Becket. 131 


Have they no names ? those arbiters those legates ? 


Pavia's Cardinal and Cardinal Otho. 


The first, mine enemy declared ; the last, 
A doubtful friend. Victory in victory's hour, 
Dries up, like Jonah's gourd ! 
This new commission supersedes the old. 
How stands the Censure ? 


Men in peril of death, 
Until their case is sifted, are absolved. 


I knew it ! Where 's the man in days like these, 
All Wales aflame once more, who walks not perilled? 
The Censure 's censured, and my name is made 
A laughter to the world. 


This pact is secret : 
The injury 's deadly, but the insult 7 s spared. 

AN ATTENDANT (entering with a letter for Beckef). 

Brought by a courier from my lord of Rouen. 
K 2 

132 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

BECKET (reads]. 

' " Trust not in princes," wear they mitre or crown ! 
King Henry maddens with his Roman triumph ; 
He boasts the names of those who clutched his gold ; 
Extols the Pope ; to England hastes ; reports 
Your office cancelled.' Write, good Herbert, write 
There 's one at least in Rome whom I can trust, 
One near the Pope in my name write, and thus : 
' Once more Barabbas is released ; once more 
The Just is crucified. His little ones, 
The homeless, and the wretched, and the meek, 
Are hurled abroad in hunger, while the impure 
With monarchs make their feast. My part is done ; 
I fought God's cause, and unto God I leave it. 
I sue, no more, tribunals of this world ; 
In them let sinners trust ! ' 


My lord, your greatness 
Yields to the humblest liberty of speech. 
Send not to Rome such missive ! Who sits there, 
Sits on God's tower, and further sees than we. 


A just reproof : I should not have forgotten \ 
His realm is Christendom's unmeasured orb, 

SCENE xi. Thomas a Becket. 133 

That which it is, and that which it shall be ; 

To him earth's kingdoms are but provinces, 

Revolted some, within his Master's kingdom. 

He must be patient, lest, in raising one, 

He spurn its neighbour, tottering. Woe is me ! 

I am an islander with narrow heart, 

And England-fastened eyes. I see my country, 

Her laws made null by modern instances, 

Her Scriptures by traditions slain of men, 

Her poor down-trampled 'neath a bestial hoof; 

Yea, scandals worse than these subverted virtue ; 

Honour, long- outraged, ceasing from its shame ; 

The salt o' the earth daily its savour losing, 

Self-sentenced to be trodden under foot. 

Write thou to Rome ; be mine the heart alone 

That bleeds beneath thy words write, ' Holy Father ! 

My spirit is in bitterness this day. 

The endurance and the hopes of years are lost ; 

Henceforth what malefactor fears Church censures ? 

Who rises o'er the fear of worldly censors ? 

Sequestrated are seven fair English sees, 

Abbeys untold.' They bid me to be patient ! 

Tell him that time makes patience sin ; the years 

Work for the foe, not us. 

AN ATTENDANT (entering). 

Two cardinal legates, \ 

134 Thomas a Becket. ACT m. 

But late commissioned from the Holy See, 
Desire my lord the primate. 

enter. ) 


Please it, your Grace, 

In northward progress to King Henry's court 
We make delay, zealous once more to see you, 
And learn your Grace's judgment of this time. 


My lords, your Eminences both are welcome. 

JOHN OF SALISBURY (to the Archbishop of Sens). 
Was ever change like that ? But now his face 
Was as a tempest's heart ; 't is now a heaven 
Incapable of cloud. 


The princely nature, 

The oppression past, regains its native calm 
As by some natural law. 


My lord archbishop, 
A mutinous world uplifts this day its front 

SCENE xi. Thomas a Becket. . 135 

Against Christ's Vicar ! Save this France and England, 
I know not kingdom sound. The antipope, 
Propped by the emperor 


Name him not ! That puppet, 
Like frailer favourites of the Imperial fancy, 
Shall have his day and pass. 


My lord archbishop, 

We, uninspired, and shaped of common clay, 
Can judge but of the present by the past, 
And deem the Church sore set. Your English king, 
Faithful till now, at last we know it wavers, 
And makes his bargain with the antipope : 
He was your pupil, through your wisdom, wise ; 
He was your playmate, mirthful at your jest; 
Your minstrel, ever singing of your praise ; 
From height to height he raised you. If he looked 
For grateful love, a credulous hope is venial : 
He says that you have raised two realms against him, 
Flanders, and France. 


Your Eminence may hear 
From sources surer than that insect swarm 

136 Thomas a Bcckct. ACT m. 

Which buzzes round the tingling ears of greatness, 
From Louis, King of France, that from the first 
I counselled him to peace. Lord cardinal, 
My sin is this : to stand a living man 
Where welcomer were a corpse 
I, not his flatterers, love my king and serve him 
Speaking that truth which not to speak to kings, 
Who seldom hear it, is the crown of treason ; 
Traitors are they, not I. 


The king complains 
That you reject as new his Royal Customs. 


I bid him to reject that vice of kings 

Which strangles earliest laws by modern Customs ; 

My lord, that vice is pride ; that pride is royal, 

But not the royallest royalty not the lasting ; 

I bid him but to fling from him that vice, 

And reign a great, sane king. 


A text there is 

That ' we are nothing better than our sires : ' 
Why not, my lord, in general terms, engage 

SCENE xi. Thomas a Becket. . 137 

That what past prelates to their kings conceded, 
Therein you '11 stint him not ? In days like these, 
The royal hand a- dipping in your dish, 
Some plausible pretence 


I ever scorneo? 

Your plausible pretence. My lord, that water 
Wherein of old the unjust judge washed his hands 
Is extant still upon the earth, and streams 
Perennial from that fountain-head accursed 
By him that day infected, through all lands, 
The bath of service which would serve two masters, 
The font where specious virtue finds again 
Her sin original, and to Christ's foe 
Demurely is baptised. Barbaric I 
Child of the northern forest, not of plains 
In wine and oil redundant. I long since 
Have known this thing and scorned it. 


Lord archbishop, 

That freedom which the Pope from you permits 
I need not grudge. In turn I too speak plainly : 
My lord, through you the Church is ill at ease, 
All Christendom perturbed. Resign, my lord ! 

138 Thomas a Becket. ACTIII. 

Taranto, Southern Italy's chief see, 

A northern saint its founder, lacks a shepherd, 

And spreads to you her arms. 


Lord cardinal, 

The chair of Peter in its own good, time 
Shall judge these Royal Customs. When that Voice, 
At times with baser sounds commixed, sends forth 
Authentic and oracular o'er the earth 
Its great award, there lives not who shall bend 
A humbler forehead to that hest than I. 
If that award should free from servile yoke 
My country and her Church, then sit who will 
In St. Augustine's chair. If that award 
Should throne the ill use, Augustine's chair dishonour, 
I ask no see in Italy or France, 
By Seine, or Tiber, or the Tyrrhene wave ; 
I claim a hermit's cell 'mid England's woods, 
Or where her wave-worn rocks are desolate most, 
Wherein to sing my penitential psalms, 
Poor vespers of a life ill-spent. Till then 
I flee not from my post. 


My lord archbishop, 

SCENE XL Thomas a Becket. 139 

We honour your great heart and manly speech, 
And bid your Grace farewell. 

[ 7^he Cardinals depart \ attended. 

BECKET (after long musing). 
Is no one near ? 


My lord, I stand beside you. 


In yonder cloudless heaven the sun still shines ; , 
The birds sing still ; the peasant breaks the clod ; 
Not less a change hath come upon the earth 
Fear nought ! 


I trust that all may yet go well. 


I looked for trials aye, but not from him : 
The good French king will be the next to leave me. 
(After a pause.} 

All shall go well but in another sort 
Than I had hoped till now. 

140 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 





Speak on, my child. Windsor's old oaks once more, 
As of your merry stag-hunts you discoursed, 
Above me sighed, and kindlier airs than those 
Which now I breathe with pain. Speak thou ; I listen. 
If I had had such brother ! Yours is dead. 
Such loss means this, that he none else shall walk 
Beside you still, when all save him are grey, 
In youth unchanged. 


Not Time itself could change him ! 
That light which cheers me still from eyes unseen, 
That wild sweet smile around imagined lips, 
A moment's breathless, magic visitation, 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 141 

Which falls upon me like a kiss and flies, 
Are scarcely more with youth perpetual bright 
Than was his spirit. Mind he seemed, all mind ! 
In childhood flower, and weed, and bird, and beast, 
Nature's fair pageant to the eye of others, 
To him was that and more. Old Bertram said 
There lurked more insight in his pupil's questions 
Than in conclusions of the sage self-styled. 
He never had grown old ! 


His youth, I trust, 
Was to such childhood faithful. 


More than faithful ! 
Vivacities of young intelligence 
Were merged, not lost, in kindlings of a soul 
Where Thought and Love seemed one. He trod on 


The Saviour's ; yea, and Mary's. All things shone 
Beauteous to him, for God shone clear through all : 
His longing was to free the Tomb of Christ, 
Fighting in Holy Land. Death's early challenge 
Pleased him not less. ' Thank God ! that Holy Land 
Was dear,' he said ; ' more dear, more near, is 

Heaven ! ' 

142 Thomas a Becket. ACT r 

THE EMPRESS (after a long silence). 
At twenty years had my son died at twenty 
The last great day alone can answer that. 
I did my best, at one time not in vain, 
To stay that fatal war 'twixt him and Becket 
Which inly wastes him like an atrophy 
Thenceforth you were alone. 


Not that first month : 

Near me that time he seemed a spiritual nearness 
Impossible, I think, to flesh and blood : 
Terrestrial life returned. 'T was then I wept. 


Peace came at last. 


'T was in a church, one even: 
The choir had closed their books \ but still on high 
Rolled on the echoes of their last ' Amen. 7 
Something within me sobbed, ' Amen, so be it.' 
I wept no more. 


Nay, nay, the dead have claims : 
I love not those who cheat them of their due.] 
Child, grief is grief. 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 143 


I clasped it as God's gift, 

And 'twixt my bosom and my arms it vanished. 
Some wound seemed staunched. My body still was 

weak : 

Wintry the woods : yet in my soul the more 
God's happy spring made way. Slowly within me 
My childhood's wish returned to live a nun : 
I deemed it first presumption ; yea temptation ; 
It changed to hope. Faint was that hope, and like 
The greening verge of some young tree in March, 
When all its bulk is dark. 


At last hope conquered. 


By hindrance helped. I seem to you unwedded : 
Yet when the irrevocable vow was breathed 
T was as a bride I felt His bride, for Whom 
Love grows divine through measureless Obedience. 
My brother too while we were children both, 
In loving, I obeyed him. Some there were 
Who mocked me with the name of < Little wife. ; 
I weep him still ; yet laugh at mine own tears, 
Knowing that he I weep is throned in heaven. 

144 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 


A more than kingly lot ! 


And yet how great, 

If judged aright, the meanest life on earth ! 
Our convent looks on cottage-sprinkled vales : 
Far, far below, now winds the marriage pomp, 
The funeral now. O, who could see such things, 
Nor help the world with prayer ? 


What see you, child ? 


An Eden, weed- overgrown, but still an Eden ; 
Man's noble life a fragment, yet how fair \ 
My father, pilgrim once in southern lands, 
Groping 'mid ruins, found a statue's foot, 
And brought it home. I gazed upon it oft 
Until its smiling curves and dimpled grace 
Showed me the vanished nymph from foot to brow, 
Majestical and sweet. Man's broken life 
Shows like that sad, sweet fragment. 


Life, my child, 


Thomas a Becket. . 145 

In times barbaric is a wilderness : 

In cultured times a street, or wrangling mart : 

We bear it, for we must. 


O madam, madam, 

God made man's life : it is a holy thing ! 
What constitutes that life ? The Virtues, first ; 
That sisterhood divine, brighter than stars, 
And diverse more than stars, than gems, than blossoms; 
The Virtues are our life in essence ; next, 
Those household ties which image ties celestial ; 
Lastly, life's blessed sorrows. They alone 
Rehearse the Man of Sorrows ; they alone 
Fit us for life with Him. 


To you man's life 

Is prospect, child : to me \ is retrospect : 
They that best know it neither love nor hate. 
It hath affections, sorrowful things and sweet : 
My share was mine, as daughter and as mother. 
It hath its duties, stately taskmasters, 
Exacting least in age, when, thanks to God, 
At last the unselfish heart is forced upon us, 
Our time for joy gone by. It hath its cares : 


146 Thomas a Becket. A cx iv. 

It hath its passions mine was once ambition ; 
And, lastly, it hath death. 


And death is peace. 


Then death and sleep are things, alas, unlike : 
Unpeaceful dreams make my nights terrible 
The spectres of past days. Last night I seemed 
Once more, as one whom midnight dangers scare, 
To rush, 'mid blinding snows, with frozen feet 
O'er the rough windings of an ice-bound river, 
The shout of them that chased me close behind, 
The wolf-cry in the woods. 


That flight from London, 
Madam, was yours in sleep. 


Once more I dreamed : 

Once more I fled through false and perjured lands, 
Insurgent coasts of rebels vowed to slay me ; 
I lay within a coffin, on a bier, 

With feet close tied. Fierce horsemen galloped past ; 
At times the traveller or the clown bent o'er me, 
And careless said, ' A corpse.' 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. . 147 


In such sad seeming 
You 'scaped from Bristol. 


Worse, far worse, remained 

I heard once more the widows' wail at Gloucester ; 
At Winchester and Worcester once again, 
Above the crackling of the blazing roofs, 
I heard the avenging shout that hailed me queen, 
And, staying not the bloodshed, shared the sin. 
That hour of dream swelled out to centuries ; 
A year so racked would seem eternity : 
Our penance such may prove. 


Madam, your strength 


A place there is which fits us for that heaven 

Where nought unclean can live : else were we hopeless. 

How think you of that region ? 


Madam, thus : 

That bourne is peace, since therein every will 
Is wholly one with His, the Will Supreme ; 

L 2 

148 Thomas a Becket. ACT IV . 

Is gladness, since deliverance there is sure ; 
Is sanctity, since punishment alone 
Of sin remains sin's least desire extinct 
And yet is pain not less. 


There should be pain ; 

Speak on ; speak truth ; I ne'er had gifts of fancy : 
Truth is our stay in life, and more in death. 


'T is pain love-born, and healed by love. On earth 
Best Christian joy is joy in tribulation, 
The noblest and the best. In that pure realm 
Our tribulation also is the noblest : 
'T is pain of love that grieves to see not God. 


Here too sin hides from us God's face ; yet here 
Feebly we mourn that loss. 


So deeply here 

Man's spirit is infleshed ! Two moments are there 
Wherein the soul of man beholds its God ; 
The first at its creation, and the next 
The instant after death. 

SCENE i. Thomas a Becket. 1 49 


It sees its Judge. 


And, seeing, is self-judged, and sees no longer : 
Yet rests in perfect peace. As some blind child, 
Stayed in its mother's bosom, feels its safety, 
So in the bosom of the love eterne, 
Secure, though sad, that Vision it awaits 
(The over-bending of that Face divine), 
Which now now first it knows to be its heaven, 
That primal thirst of souls at last re-waked, 
The creature's yearning for its great Creator. 


Pray that these pains may help me toward that Vision ! 
Till these my later years I feared not death : 
Death's magnanimity, as death draws nigh, 
Subdues that fear. My hope is in the Cross. 
Whatever before me lies, the eternal justice 
Will send my pain, the eternal love console, 
And He who made me be at last my peace. 
Farewell ! Return at morn ; your words your looks 
Have brought me help. Be with me when I die. 

1 50 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 



All 's well ; and then all 's ill ; who wars on Becket 

Hath January posting hard on May, 

And night at ten o' the morn. That man regains 

Whatever is lost : he 's dangerous in retreat. 

Three times I conquered ; first with rotten aid 

Of his own bishops in this realm of England ; 

At Rome through help of yours, when hope seemed 


Lastly at Montmirail. Now comes the change : 
Those new-sent envoys o'er me bend their brows ; 
Impeach me with bad faith ; aver the Censures 
Conditionally only were removed ; 
Remind me of your pledge at Rome ! Perforce 
I sware to keep at least my later pledge, 
Made where St. Denys died. 


If humbly thus' 

Your Highness pleads your right to wear that crown, 
Bequest of kings who bowed not to the crosier, 
The primate wins his own again ; the king 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 151 

Partakes with Edward named the Confessor 
Henceforth the saintly praise. 


Bequest of kings ! 

There 's none of them that dared what I have dared ! 
They ruled a realm, and shared that realm with 

priests : 

I rule an empire : many a realm there died, 
Died nobly to upbuild it ; rule an empire 
Which in the West shall one day vaster prove 
Than Frederick's in the East. How bind, how fuse it, 
If every bishop reigns, a lesser king, 
And every baron ? To the dust with such ! 
My empire is an empire ruled by laws, 
Not warring wills ; but, mark you, royal laws, 
The efflux of one royal will, forth flowing 
Like rivers through the land ! 


There spake a king ! 

To speed that great design, I, priest myself. 
For many a year, not caring who cried ' shame,' 
Have given you help that help a priest alone, 
Sagacious through the labyrinth still to scent 
The tortuous trail of priestcraft, could have given. 

152 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

Sir, at this hour you stand in dangers worse 
Thrice than your dangers past. A cry goes up, 
Not from the poor alone. Your barons helped you 
Craving Church plunder, not from loyal love : 
To-day they fear you, and renounce your cause. 
The Pope grows strong ; and with his strength his 

courage ; 

While Becket, sager for defeats foregone, 
Comes hard on victory's goal. 


A synod, John 
At Clarendon I '11 call it, in three months. 


The bishops will be wary. Synods now 

Are perilous things ; the last was ill-attended. 

Old Winton, summoned, answered that the canons 

Forbad appeal from greater powers to less : 

1 And I/ he said, * now old and grey, have had 

That greater summons from my Master, God, 

Whose judgment I await/ 


Within your eye 
I see a counsel glimmering. Speak it, John ! 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 153 


Your Highness needs some measure stringent, strong, 
Some act to daunt your foes, and cheer your 

friends ; 

Yet, venturing such, before you imminent 
An Interdict there looms. 


And that were ruin. 


Hear now my counsel ! Crown your son, Prince 

Henry ! 

The boy will be your puppet-king; the world 
Must count him king in act. Work then your will : 
No Interdict strikes him, or his. 


'T were hard 

To crown a king is Canterbury's right 
By law and usage both. 


That stands provided ! 

You willed to crown the prince when eight years old: 
That day the Pope granted a dispensation, 
And bade you choose your bishop. Canterbury 

154 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

Lacked then, \ is true, a primate. What of that ? 
A precedent was made ; the rest be mine. 
Send me to Rome : the Pope desires no triumph ; 
Will soon believe that, grieved at errors past, 
You from your greatness have deposed yourself 
To fight in Holy Land. 


The Pope consent ! 


He still may count that dispensation binding : 
If, pressed by Becket, he should call it back, 
We act at once upon his earlier mandate, 
And brand the last as forged. That last indeed, 
Unless in public with the bishops lodged, 
They well may treat as null. 


Which fraud exposed, 
Becket will launch his bolt. 



O, never, never 
That bolt shall Becket launch 


I keep him barred 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 155 

From England's shores. Not less that bolt would 
scorch them. 


We have reached the inmost kernel of my scheme. 
Some six weeks since so rumour ran you stood 
All day in stormy conference with your bishops : 
At eve a stranger, gliding through the dusk, 
Lodged in your royal hand an unsigned letter, 
On reading which you smiled. 


Its words were these : 

' Better that Becket stood on England's shores 
Than roamed the world at will.' 


I wrote that letter. 


Craftiest of counsellors, I see your drift ! 
You mean a dungeon. Henry crowned, the pri- 

Or wrathful, or to win his pupil back, 
Will hasten to this land. 


Your Highness then 

156 Thomas a Becket. ACT IV . 

Hunting in merry Maine ! A dungeon yes 

Worse than a dungeon would be worse for us 

(QUEEN ELEANOR enters with her ladies. ) 
The glory and the grace of female beauty, 
Consummate, and mature, and crowned a Queen ! 

QUEEN ELEANOR (advancing to the king with a parrot 
on her wrist). 

Lo, here my new-taught mocker ! Learn like him ! 
Speak, painted prophet ! ' Thomas is a fool ! ; 





If Nature, God's fair daughter, wreathes at times 

The Church's fillet o'er her laughing eyes, 

And, masked in livery of her graver sister, 

Like her would teach us learn we then her lore ! 

What means this flower ? Men call it Columbine ; 

A tassel-toy. Yet, pluck, save one, its purples, 

And lo, that remnant left puts on the dove ! 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. . 157 

Blossom to bird is changed ! The meaning 7 s plain : 
Weed out your joys ; cast off redundancies : 
And at their core you reach the winged greatness ! 
The passion-flower itself 

JOHN OF SALISBURY (arriving). 

Hail, ancient friend ! 


Far-travelled seer, welcome from all the lands ! 
How speak they of our primate ? 


Much, and ill : 

The magnates of the State fear and dislike him ; 
The magnates of the Church admire yet fear ; 
With instinct from above the poor are with him. 


'T is ever thus ! In Castle Rockingham, 

When like a stag at bay old Anselm stood, 

The Red King glaring at him in lust of blood, 

What help was his from prelate or from peer ? 

The council-hall was as a captured city : 

The bishops hung their heads. Then from the crowd 

An old grey man stepped forth, and knelt, and said, 

' Father, thy children bid thee have no fear : 

The poor man's prayer is strong ! ' 

158 Thomas a Becket. ACT 1V . 


Not helpfuller then 

Pope Urban was to Anselm than, this hour, 
His successor to Thomas. Herbert, Herbert ! 
The Church errs never ; but her rulers err : 
They lack the earth- wisdom of the secular lords. 


The errors of the rulers of the Church 

At times more serve her than their happiest prudence. 

'T is true they cause her trials : well, what next ? 

God sends her strength proportioned to those trials, 

And makes her feel that strength is His alone. 

Statesmen do penance here on earth for errors ; 

Their sins a later, sterner Court shall judge. 

The Church her sackcloth wears on earth for sins ; 

The sinless error hurts her not : it breeds 

Her pains of growth no more. 


That slowness frets me. 


Her slowness means her greatness. Statesmen play 
Still the short game, because their time is short ; 
She that endures, the long. Her nature this ; 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. 1 59 

Her nature, and God's law, not her design : 
Her total force she cannot mass in front : 
Reserves she hath. Some tyrant's luckless craft 
Forth drags them ; and, his victory all but won, 
He finds his war beginning. 


Henry's craft 

Deceives no more. He offered Parma late 
Two thousand marks for help of hers at Rome, 
To Milan and Cremona paid three thousand : 
No help they gave him. Gratian, when the king 
Assailed him late with wrath, or wrath pretended, 
Made answer, ' Cease from threats : we come from 


Who gives, not takes the law.' Vivian spake thus : 
' Much have I witnessed, wrestled oft with kings ; 
But ne'er till now met I a wit as keen, 
A faith as false as yours.' 


How answered Henry ? 


Thus, with a smile : ' I act but as I must : 
To win three kingdoms were an easier task 
Than to contend with Becket ! ' 

1 60 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 


God, O God ! 
How diverse showed those twain when first they 


And how that first diversity hath grown 
With fleeting of the years ! At Montmirail 
That truth o'ershone me like a lightning flash ! 
Not then, as at Northampton, towered he up, 
A terror to his foes. In patient sadness, 
With neck a little bent and forward head, 
Six hours he stood beneath that scourge of tongues : 
He spake but this ; ' I swear to serve my king, 
Saving the honour of the King of kings : 
Who swears to more is Pagan and a slave/ 
No boast he made of self. 'Mid storm and darkness 
He clung to God as limpet to the rock ; 
He ; s greater than he was : the grace of Orders 
Within his soul makes increase. 


It were time 
He sued the Pope once more. 


He never sues him, 
Though loyalest of his sons. He trusts in God, 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. 1 6 1 

And broods not much on counsels for the future. 

When late I spake of such, he smiled and said, 

1 There was an hour beside St. Denys' tomb ! 

'T was then you deemed our fortunes touched their 

highest : 

It is not, friend, from thrones of kings or popes 
Issues man's hope, but from the martyr's grave.' 


Herbert, the fault is yours your fault your folly ! 
One day you ; 11 wreck us. Yes, the fault is yours ! 
Should Thomas catch from you 


No word from me 
Hath Thomas heard to fire the martyr's zeal. 


Ever you praise man's life; yet ever muse 
How, innocently, man may soonest leave it : 
All which the moment needeth you ignore. 
Herbert, see that which is ! you gaze for aye 
On pictures in the air. 


Which they can see not 

1 62 Thomas a Becket. ACT IV . 

Who, dazzled, watch that merry house on fire, 
A world in dotage hastening to its doom. 


Am I a worldling ? 


Nay, but half, good John ; 
Worldling with heavenward aim. 


Herbert, you know 
As little of the world as of the flesh 
Of each not more, I ween, than of the Devil : 
Let the world be. 


Things are there he knows best 
Who knows them only slightly, and at distance. 
Well, well, the world is fair this day at least ; 
Aye, and the life of man is worth the living ! 
So deem that bannered choir of youths and maids : 
Glad hearts sing there ! 

PEASANTS (i)ass near singing). 

Hark, the Spring ! She calls 

With a thousand voices ; 
'Mid the echoing forest-halls 

One great heart rejoices ! 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Beckei. t 163 

Hills where young lambs bound 

Whiten o'er with daisies ; 
Flag-flowers light the lower ground 

Where the old steer grazes. 

Meadows laugh, flower-gay ; 

Every breeze that passes 
Waves the seed-cloud's gleaming grey 

O'er the greener grasses. 

O thou Spring ! be strong, 

Exquisite new-comer ! 
And the onset baffle long 

Of advancing Summer ! 


Herbert, farewell ! Within I seek the primate : 
New treasons rise ; which, to forestall, the Pope 
Sends mandates to my Lords of York and London. 
The Swearer saw him late that means a storm. 


BECKET, alone. 


Each day more clearly, like two mighty peaks 

Of one veiled mountain, shine two truths before me. 

My hope is not from England that I learned 

164 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

Deserted at Northampton : not from Rome 

That learned I when those legates, later missioned. 

Cancelled my two years' work, and from me drave 

A penitent realm, returning. Once again 

At Montmirail I learned it. Be it so ! 

Twice was the victory from my hand down dashed 

When all but won. 

Immeasurably Rome helps me needs she must 

Simply by being merely by existence ; 

Help me by act she cannot. She doth well : 

To invoke her now were base. But thou, my country, 

The on-rolling centuries, whose fateful hands 

Shall bind the purple or the death-robe round thee, 

Engrain their deep- dyed tissue here, and now : 

Thy son am I, not less than Christian bishop : 

Thy martyr, if God wills it, I would die. 

(LLEWELLEN enters.} 

These be the Papal mandates. Place them, friend, 
Within their hands the hands of York and London ; 
But when the eyes of men are on them set: 
Your labour else is vain. 


It shall be done. 


SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. 165 


There should have been no need to send those mis- 

I must not think it. Once I was unjust. 
The Holy Father sees as from a height \ 
I fight but on the plain : my time is short, 
And in it much to expiate. I must act. 

(After a pause.} 

I strove for justice, and my mother's honour ; 
For these at first. Now know I that God's Truth 
Is linked with these as close a.s body and soul. 



From ill to worse ! I see it daily plainer : 
The forehead seamed ; the vacillating thought ; 
There 's fever, and there 's feebleness in both : 
Greatness goes from him. 


And sterility 

1 66 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

Blights the lean years. Long since King Henry 


That Scotland to his crown should pay her homage ; 
Ireland revere his sway nay, bless his laws. 
Where stand we ? Still on borders bleak of Wales, 
Bearded by bandit clans. 


The cause is patent. 

This strife has weaned his people from their king : 
He dares not trust them. Chester Arundel 
Frown when they name his name ; and Oxford smiles ; 
Brands him an upstart then forgets the theme. 
Barons that starve, and disaffected priests, 
On such alone securely he relies. 
His Customs ! What were we, nobles of England, 
If pledged to recognise as law and right 
Casual concessions, filched or bought if tried 
In hostile courts, and not before our peers ? 
Better be collared with the old Saxon ring ; 
Wear name of Serf and Thrall ! 


A rumour spreads 
That Henry crowns the prince as King of England. 


The perils these this conflict draws upon him ! 

SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. 167 

Eight years ago he flung that scheme aside. 
Prince Henry crowned ! Good father-king, beware ! 
You light a fire that soon will reach your roof ! 
From this beginning wars on wars shall rise. 
The prince is proud ; will scorn to reign, a puppet ; 
Discord will spread : first sons against their sire, 
Brother 'gainst brother next will dash in frenzy : 
The inveterate habit, hate, will prey within ; 
The wound, skinned o'er, break out again in blood 
A river streaming on from reign to reign, 
Till on the far, predestinate field at last 
Plantagenet's great race makes shameful end, 
While some large-fisted boor, or blear-eyed knave 
Steals the dishonoured crown. If any Fury 
Hates Henry's house, she fixed on it her eye 
Then when this strife began. 


I hate this Becket; 
He is the Church's champion. 


Salisbury's bishop 

Hates him and fears him both ; yet says full oft 
' Becket was fanatic never, though a Churchman : 
High priest at heart had scarce been priest so late, 

1 68 Thomas a Becket. 


Nor worn so long the Chancellor's gown. He 's 


Neither as proud nor tortuous, but as simple, 
And passionate for the honour of his charge : 
Some mastiff old is he, that by the door 
Of hut or house, alike, keeps honest watch ; 
The State, not Church, his charge ' 


I serve the king ; 
My thought ends there. 


Cornwall, I also serve him; 
Would I had served him with less servile service : 
Our course hath scarce been knightly, nay, scarce 


'T is late to change ; yet this I know the path 
Which John of Oxford points must end in shame. 



Your Grace is gloomier than there 's need, and show 
Less than yourself therein. 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. . 169 


Your king is sudden : 

The tidings of his march and victory reach us 
Like runners matched. That slender, sinewy frame, 
That ardent eye, that swift on -striding step. 
Yet graceful as a tiger's, foot descending 
Silent but sure on the predestinate spot 
From signs like these looks forth the inward man. 
Expect grave news ere long. 


My lord, that bishop 

Who crowns, in scorn of great Augustine's right, 
An English king, stands excommunicate. 
I deem these rumours idle things. The Pope, 
To bar all danger, issued letters thrice, 
First from Anagni, from the Lateran next, 
And last from Alba, to our English bishops : 
Needless I thought his care ; yet sent those letters 
To England at his hest, 


A whisper stirs 

That instruments consenting to that deed, 
The sigil of the Fisherman appended, 
Were forged by John of Oxford. Others say 

1 70 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

He won the Pope's consent no doubt by fraud; 
His fraud exposed, that sanction was withdrawn ; 
But to those instruments consent withdrawing 
The English ports are closed. 


My lord, fear nought ! 

Remember Montmirail ! There stood I sole : 
The good French king nay, Rome itself against me : 
More late the Roman envoys saw the snare : 
The King of France I sought him out at Sens : 
With head bent low in heaviness he sat : 
I deemed myself once more an exiled man : 
One moment, and he knelt before my feet ; 
1 You, you alone,' he cried, ' that day had eyes ; 
Blind were we all ; except that youthful prince, 
Friend have you none in England.' 

(To LLEWELLEN, entering.} 

Ha, good scout ! 
How sped you on your way ? 


My errand failed. 


No fault of yours, good friend ! 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Bccket. 1 7 1 


By night I landed, 

And sped to London in a beggar's garb. 
Day after day, in banquet hall and church, 
I strove to reach my Lords of York and London ; 
They knew the danger near, and stood on guard. 
At last I sought my Lord of London's house : 
Slowly the bishop crossed the court in prayer, 
And, reading, cast at times a sidelong glance. 
I knelt me down, and raised the Papal missive : 
He deemed it some petition ; softly took it ; 
Ere long he learned the truth. 


But not in public ? 


The humbleness in his regard grew sour ; 
Yet wroth he seemed not. c From the Pope a man- 
date ! 

Knowing the parchment forged, I read it not : 
The Pope's authentic mandate is with us.' 
He spake, and tossed it from him, and passed by. 
In rushed the prince with mummers, and I 'scaped ; 
Else had my lot been hard. 


What saw you next ? 

1 72 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 


At morn the king was knighted by his father, 
And crowned at stroke of noon." 


By whom ? 


By one 
Who little liked his office Roger of York. 


His time will come. The coronation oath 
At least bears witness 'gainst the ' Royal Customs ; ; 
The prince made oath to guard the Church's free- 
Pray God he guard it better than his sire ! 


That sentence from his oath was razed : the bishops 
Who crowned him sware to keep the Royal Customs ! 

BECKET (rising suddenly]. 
The mask is off ! Thank God, 't is off for ever ! 

(After a pause.) 
No more of that. Proceed ! What next befell ? 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 1 73 


The rest was nought but jubilee and triumph, 
Wine-fountains, pealing bells, the bon-fires' glare, 
The tournament, and charging of the steeds 
In the ordered lists. High up, o'er-canopied 
By cloth of gold, refulgent sat the Queen ; 
Her ladies round her in a silken haze, 
Like the moon's halo round the moon, when night 
On hills of Wales 


Let be your hills of Wales 
The feast ? You saw it ? 


Aye, in minstrel's garb : 
The tables groaned with gold : I scorned the 

pageant ! 

The Norman pirates, and the Saxon boors 
Sat round and fed : I hated them alike, 
The rival races, one in sin. 


Both kings 
Were present ? 


There a merry chance befell : 

1 74 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

King Henry stood behind his son, and served. 
Give thanks, young prince/ my Lord of York brake 


' For ne'er till now ' ' Is it strange/ the boy replied, 
If by an earl's son a king's son is served ? ; 
The great hall roared with laughter high o'er all 
His father's voice ! 


How like my youthful pupil ! 
God bless the child ! 


Grave tidings these, my lord ! 


My lord, you take me back from morn to night. 
The coronation 's nought we are hurt elsewhere. 
That Oath to keep the Church in liberty, 
That baptism vow of England Christian made, 
That bridal pledge of England wed to Christ, 
That sister link 'twixt her and Christendom, 
Whose holy kingdoms weep henceforth her fall 
That oath, that vow, that pledge, that link all-blessed, 
The birthright of the nations ere their birth ; 
The talisman which, 'mid their youthful struggles, 
Charmed them from fate, and saved them from 
themselves ; 

SCENE vii. Thomas a Becket. 1 75 

Which still for suffering weakness found defence 
In the great conscience of Humanity, 
Impersonate in God's Church, and armed and mis- 
sioned ; 

Lo, where that Oath is dashed aside, cast off 
Unceremoniously as a shifted robe, 
Or banquet-trencher changed, or rotted bandage 
Foul from a wound, and flung into the filth ! 
This thing no comment bears : too grave it is 
For wrath or further speech. I go to England. 


LEICESTER, .CORNWALL, Barons, and Courtiers near them. 

This meeting of the primate and the kings 
Shall bring the end. 


For years I have not seen 

Such health on Henry's brow. That coronation, 
Which raised the boy to monarch, changed not less 
His father to a boy. 

i 76 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 


And yet that deed 

Was questionable, or worse. Triumphant acts 
Consummated at last and on the sudden, 
Whether their nature evil be or good, 
Are not alone achievement,, but deliverance : 
A load 's removed ; and, like a ship upspringing 
Then when the o'er-blown mast is from it cut, 
The spirit regains its port erect, and rushes, 
Though maimed, before the storm. Conscience ex- 

Is next in strength to conscience crowned a king : 
Which strength is his I know not. 


This I know, 

The change is good. He sleeps again at nights ; 
Once more his foot is swift, his hand is steady, 
His blood is flame : within his eye is light 
Not joy, yet like to joy. 


But see, he comes ! 

The French king not. That ' kiss of peace/ -withheld 
From Becket, moves his spleen. 


Right opposite, 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 177 

Rides Becket ; at his left Earl Theobald, 
And Sens 7 Archbishop at his right. Once more 
I see him sweeping o'er thy plain, Toulouse, 
In warlike pomp, and mirthful majesty, 
Of England's chivalry the first ! 


The king 

Makes speed to meet him, with uncovered head ; 
And lo, with what a zeal he grasps his hand ! 
Now they embrace. Was that the kiss of peace ? 

JOHN OF OXFORD (joining them}. 
Not so : the king's horse swerved. 




The unhappy, sour, and anger-venomed time, 
By craft of others clouded and confused, 
Hath drifted past us ; and once more shines out 
The sky of earlier days. Papal ambitions 
Drave in betwixt us, Thomas ! 


1 78 Thomas a Becket. ACT IV . 


Sir, my King, 

Those cloudy days at times had better gleams ; 
Their summer promise, like a witch's gold, 
Still left me poorer. 


Nay, not promises ! 

Forward I ever was to speak my hopes ; 
Slow to pledge grace. 


Beneath Montmartre you pledged it : 
The French king heard you, and my Lord of Sens, 
And many a French and English knight beside. 
I prayed for restitution of those lands 
From Canterbury torn. It pleased your Highness 
To grant that suit : yet till this hour that pledge 
Stands void and unredeemed. 


This must be looked to. 


I made another and a weightier suit : 

Those benefices dowered for God's high worship 

And temporal service of the poor of Christ, 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 1 79 

By sacrilegious barons clutched and sold 

To trencher priests, the Church's scourge and 


For these I made demand. It pleased your Highness 
To pledge your word that rapine should surcease. 
Sire, for two little months the plague was stayed ; 
Then burst it forth anew. 


They hid it from me. 


The vacant abbeys, widowed bishoprics 
Glut still the royal coffers. 


Some, I think, 
Have gained true shepherds late : the rest shall win 


I made delay fearing lest rash elections 
Might vex the Church's peace. 


To me and mine 

Return was promised to our native land 
Where rest the bones of them who went before us : 
Your coasts are closed against us ; and my friends 
N 2 

1 80 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

Of hunger many, more of grief, have died 
In alien lands, and sleep in nameless graves. 


Now by the Saints of Anjou and of Maine, 
England to you is open as this hand, 
And hath been since that coronation- day 
Which made your pupil king. 


Your Highness touches 
Our latest wrong. The see of Canterbury 
Hath privilege sole to crown our English kings : 
My Lord of York usurped that dignity, 
Crowning your son. 


The Conqueror's self was crowned 
By York's Archbishop, not by holy Stigand, 
Primate that day. My grandfather was crowned 
By Hereford's bishop. 


Stigand had not won 

From Rome the pallium ; and the see was vacant : 
Hereford's bishop served in Anselm's place, 

An exile then for God. Anselm, returned, 

Re-crov/ned the ill-crowned king. 


Thomas a Becket.. 1 8 1 


By Anj ou's Saints, 
Your bishops snared me. Let them pay the forfeit ! 


My Lords of York and London are suspended : 
May it please your Highness plainly to declare 
If you confirm that sentence ? 


I confirm it ! 

T is three times ratified. I tell you, Thomas, 
I ; 11 have the old times again. The princess scorned 
Unction not yours : ere long your hands shall crown her, 
Your hands re-crown my son. 


Alas ! the grief 

To win all rights, all but the best, the dearest ! 
You make no mention of the 


Name them not ! 
This day is festal : bring no cloud upon it ! 


O would that I had never heard them named, 
Ne'er seen them blazoned 

1 82 Thomas a Becket. 



Thomas, on English shores 
All wrongs shall be made right. 


A morn there was 
Your Highness then had scarce been three months 

When, in a window of your Woodstock palace, 
(The Queen was singing 'mid the birds below), 
We read some history of pagan days ; 
It pierced your heart : you started up : you cried, 
* Thrice better were these pagans than your saints ! 
They loved their native land ! They set their eyes 
On one small city small, but yet their mother 
And died in its defence ! ' 


Again I say it ! 


I answered thus < They knew the State alone : 

They played at dim rehearsals, yet were true 

To truth, then man's. They gazed with tearful eyes, 

Not on their city only, but that rock, 

Its marble mother,* which above it soared, 

Crowned with that city's fortress and its fanes. 

SCENE VIIL Thomas a Becket. 183 

Beyond their gods lived on the " God Unknown : " 
Above base mart and popular shout survived 
The majesty of law.' 


'T is true. Thus spake you. 


But added this : ' Our God is not unknown : 

In omnipresent majesty among us 

His Church sits high upon her rock tower-crowned, 

Fortress of Law divine, and Truth Revealed, 

O'er every city throned, o'er every realm ! 

Had we the man-heart of the men of old, 

With what a spirit of might invincible 

For her should we not die ! ' 


With tears you spake it. 


Then judge me justly, O my King, my friend, 
Casting far from you, like a sundered chain, 
A thought abhorred, an ignominy down- trodden, 
The oppression of dead error. Say, shall I, 
A Christian bishop, and a subject sworn, 
Be pagan more than pagan, doubly false 

1 84 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

False to a heavenly kingdom throned o'er earth, 
False to an earthly kingdom raised to heaven, 
And ministering there, high on the mount of God, 
'Mid those handmaiden daughters of a King 
Who gird the Queen gold-vested ? Pagans, sire, 
Lived not, though dark, in Babylonian blindness : 
The laws of that fair city which they loved 
Subjecting each man, raised him and illumed. 
We too are citizens of no mean City : 
Her laws look forth on us from rite and creed : 
In her the race of Man Redeemed we honour, 
Which cleansed from bestial, and ill spirits ex- 

In unity looks down on us, God's Church, 
The Bride of Christ, beside the great King throned, 
Who on His sceptre leans. My King, my friend ! 
I have done to you no wrong ! My many sins 
Lay other where. Tenfold their compt would rise, 
If, sane myself, I pandered to your madness. 


Thomas, you lack what only might convert me : 
Could you be England's King, her primate I, 
Your part I too would play ! 


And O how nobly 

SCENE viii. Thomas a Becket. 185 

And unlike me in fashion you would play it ! 
How petty my discourse hath been till now : 
Sir, see these things as you will one day see them ! 
Two lots God places in the hand of each : 
We choose ; and oft we choose the lot least loved. 
T l j youth who slays life's hope in blind excess 
Knows not that deep within his heart far deeper 
Than all base cravings those affections live 
Which sanctified his father's home. Years pass : 
Sad memories haunt the old man in his house, 
Sad shadows strike the never-lighted hearth, 
Sad echoes shake the child-untrodden floors : 
A great cry issues from his famished heart 
' I spurned the lot I loved. ? 


My youth is past : 

It had its errors ; yet within my house 
Are voices young and sweet. 


God keep them such ! 
Far better silence, and the lonely hall, 
Than war-cries round the hearth. God guard your 

children ! 

If you have risen against the Church, your mother, 
God guard them from revolt against their sire ! 

1 86 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

I spake not, sir, of errors in your youth : 

A parable was mine. 

The soul's revolt is deadlier than the body's : 

Sir, that revolt is pride. In time, beware ! 

That God who shapes us all to glorious end 

For you ordained a glory beyond glory : 

Spurn not true greatness for a phantom greatness ! 

Your flatterers are your danger ; them you trust : 

You fear the Church : to her you owe your all : 

From her you gat your crown. 


That word is true : 

The Church and Theobald, and you not less, 
Propped me at need. What then? A king, per- 
Reveres the ancient ways. 


O never in you 

Was tender reverence for the ancient ways ! 
Another mind is yours \ a different will, 
An adverse aim ; that aim I deem not base : 
There 's greatness in it ; but your means are ruthless. 
You love your children there 's your sum of love ; 
Yours are the passions which torment our clay, 
The intellect and the courage which exalt it, 

SCENE vin. Thomas a Becket. 187 

The clear conception of a state and empire 
Yet seen but from below. To raise that state 
You crush all ancient wont, all rights and heights : 
Your kingdom you would level to a plain, 
O'erlooked by one hill only, and, thereon 
The royal tent. 


God made my heart ambitious. 


Then be ambitious with a high ambition ! 
You scorn the lofty daring. Lions nigh, 
You hunt the forest vermin. 


Thomas, Thomas ! 

We kings should tender more our country's peace 
Than any personal greatness. 


Royal sir, 

Play not the sophist with yourself or God. 
You you alone have marred your country's peace, 
Sapping her faith ! Faith is a nation's safety. 
Remember, sir, the i Battle of the Standard ! ' 
The Scotch king, David, harried all the North : 

1 88 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv. 

No king against him marched : \ was mitred Thurl- 

ston : 

The freemen of the people round him flocked : 
High in a chariot central ; mid that host 
Hung the great banners of four English Saints 
(Not Saints, Lord King, of Anjou or of Maine), 
Cuthbert of Durham, John of Beverley, 
Wilfred of Ripon, Peter named of York. 
The cry of Albin swept the world before it ! 
Alone that chariot, with its banners, stood : 
Back fell the astonished clans, and Carlisle's towers 
Heard their last wail. 


Barbaric days, my friend ! 
Turn we to nearer themes. You deem me false, 
I know, to friendship old. Impute that fault 
To friendship's self. I looked to you for help : 
I found my friend my foe. 


I ne'er deceived you : 

I taught you from the first the Church's rights, 
Therein through zeal offending your great mother, 
Who sleeps in God, and moving oft your spleen ! 
Taught you that nations were not ravening beasts, 


Thomas a Becket. 189 

Each with its separate spoil and will unquestioned, 

But sisters in the bond of Christendom. 

I told you pagan nations knew two laws, 

Domestic civil ; Christian nations three, 

Domestic, civil, apostolical ; 

(Man, that begins a family, through grace 

Dilating to the family of Christ, 

His utmost limit, and his nature's crown) ; 

Three spheres engird man's life : I said that none 

Might wrong the lesser, none affront the greater : 

You knew my heart; from first to last you knew it : 

You thought the world would change it ; for which 

You willed me primate. 


Aye, and curse that madness ! 
I spurn alike your parables and sermons : 
I rule my land alone ! No more of this ! 

(After a pause.) 

The tempest swept athwart me ; it is past. 
Thomas, we 're friends. Ere long we meet in Eng- 
land : 

There you shall have your fill of rights restored : 
There, 'mid your frowning foes, the kiss of peace, 

1 90 Thomas a Becket. ACT iv 

That knightly and that kingly pledge of love, 
Which whoso violates thenceforth is base, 
Shall seal our meeting. Louis more than once 
For you that pledge demanded. What remains 
Claim from my son. 


Sire, ere a king's permission 
Had made between a bishop and his see 
Plain way once more, your coasts still armed agains 


As citizens guard their house by night from thieves, 
My course was taken and announced : return 
Once more to my great charge. 


A festive nation 
Shall meet you landing there. 


The first, de Broc ! 

He graces, ten long years, Saltwood, my manor, 
And swears that ere this throat has swallowed down 
Two English loaves, his knife shall round it wind ! 
Your pardon, sire ; your wandering eye denotes 
Your thoughts elsewhere. 


I sought a man I trust : 

SCENE vin. Thomas a Becket. 191 

Would I could send my Lords of Sens and Rouen 
To adorn your glad return ! I need them both : 
Not less a worthy guide shall grace your way, 
My friend a scholar noted John of Oxford. 


I know him ; and I trust him not. Whoe'er 
Your Highness wills is free to share my journey. 
I see what I foresaw, and see the end. 


Farewell, my lord : we meet ere long in England ! 


Farewell ! I think we shall not meet in England, 
And therefore bless you, sire, in France, and now. 


Not meet? 


I go to England, sire, to die. 


Am I a traitor, Thomas ? 

BECKET (after a pause). 
Sire, not so. 

192 Thomas a Becket. 


JOHN OF OXFORD, and a priest. 


This to my Lord of London. Make good haste ! 
Ride day and night ! This to my Lord of York : 
From every town and hamlet send the tidings 
That peace is made, and Becket reconciled, 
The Pope contented well, the realm of France 
Unanimous in joy. 

It shall be done. 


Return at once. All letters for the king 
Bring straight to me : I am his secretary. 
The journey 's costly: take my purse. Good speed ! 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 193 




BECKET (standing apart from the rest). 

The night comes swiftly like a hunted man 
Who cloaks his sin. The sea grows black beneath it ; 
There 's not a crest that thunders on these sands 
But sounds some seaman's knell. 
The wan spume, racing o'er the death-hued waters, 
This way and that way writhes a bickering lip : 
As many winds as waves o'er-rush the deep, 
Warring like fiends whose life is hate. Alas ! 
For him, the ship-boy on the drowning deck ! 
Heart-sickness and the weariness of life 
He never felt : he knew nor sin nor sorrow 
Not thus I hoped to face my native land. 
What means this sinking strange ? Till now my worst 
Was when I saw my sister in her shroud. 
Death, when it comes, will not be stern as this : 
Death is the least of that which lies before me. 
This is mine hour of darkness, and ill powers 
Usurp upon my manlier faculties, 
Which in the void within me faint and fail, 

1 94 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

Like stones that loosen in some high-built arch 

Whereof the key- stone crumbles 

I cannot stamp my foot upon the earth. 

Where art thou, Power Divine, my hope till now? 

To what obscure and unimagined bourne 

Beyond the infinitudes of measureless distance 

Hast thou withdrawn thyself? This, this remains ; 

Seeing no more God's glory on my path, 

To tread it still as blindfold innocence 

Walks 'twixt the burning shares. 

JOHN OF SALISBURY (joining Beckef). 
Beware, my lord ! I know King Henry's eye : 
Go not to England. He would have you there 
Who drave you thence long since. 


Our ends are diverse ; 
Not less my way may lie with his. 


How far ? 


It may be to my church of Canterbury j 
It may be to the northern transept there ; 
It may be to that site I honoured ever, 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 195 

The altar of St. Benedict. Thus far 
Our paths may blend then part. 


Go not to England ! 
I mingled with the sailors of yon ship : 
Their captain signed to me : then, with both hands 
Laid on my shoulders, and wide, staring eyes, 
Thus whispered : ' Lost ! undone ! Seek ye your 

deaths ? 
All men may land in England none return/ 


Behold, I give you warning in good time, 
. Lest anger one day pass the bounds of truth : 
King Henry never schemed to shed my blood : 
Dungeons low-vaulted, and a life-long chain ; 
That was the royal dream. Return, my friend ; 
You know your task. 

[John of Salisbury departs. 

Thank God, that cloud above my spirit clears ! 
Danger, when near, hath still a trumpet's sound: 
It may be that I have not lived in vain ; 
Let me stand once within the young king's presence, 
And though the traitors should besiege him round, 

Close as the birds yon rock 

o 2 

196 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 


My lord, God save you ! 


One kind act more you come to say farewell. 
My brother, and my lord, four years rush back 
And choke my heart ! We are both too old for 


I am a shade that fleets. May centuries bless 
That house so long my home ! 


The see of Sens 

Has had you for her guest ; our fair cathedral 
And yours are sisters : be the omen blest ! 
Perhaps in future ages men may say, 
4 Thomas of Canterbury, Sens' poor William 
These men, so far apart in gifts of grace, 
Were one in mutual love/ 


My lord, in heaven 

Not earth alone, that love shall be remembered. 
Bear back my homage to your good French king, 
That great and joyous Christian gentleman, 
Who keeps in age his youth. In strength he walks 
The royal road faith, hope, and charity, 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. 197 

To throne more royal and a lordlier kingdom. 
Pray him to live with Henry from this hour 
In peace. 

The king will ask of your intents. 


Tell him we play at heads. God rules o'er all. 
Farewell ! 


Good friend, and gracious lord, farewell ! 
\The Archbishop of Sens departs t attended. 


As good to go to heaven by sea as land ! 
Sail we, my lord, this evening ? 


Herbert, Herbert ! 

Before thou hast trod in England forty days, 
All that thou hast right gladly would'st thou give 
To stand where now we stand. What sable shape 
Is that which sits on yonder rock, alone, 
Nor heeds the wild sea-spray ? 


My lord, Idonea ; 

198 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

She too makes way to England, and desires 
Humbly your Grace's audience. 


Lead her hither. 

{Herbert departs. 

Herbert and John both gone how few are like them! 

God made me rich in friends. In Herbert still, 

So holy and so infant-like his soul, 

I found a mountain- spring of Christian love 

Upbursting through the rock of fixed resolve 

A spring of healing strength ; in John, a mind 

That, keener than diplomatists of kings, 

Was crafty only 'gainst the wiles of craft, 

And, stored with this world's wisdom, scorned to use it 

Except for virtue's needs. 

The end draws nigh. Nor John nor Herbert sees it. 

(His attendants approach with I DONE A.) 

Earth's tenderest spirit and bravest ! Welcome, child! 
Soft plant in bitter blast ! Adieu, my friends ; 
This maid hath tidings for my private ear. 

\The attendants depart. 

My message reached you then, my child, at Rouen ? 
But what is this ? Is that the countenance turned 
So long to yon dark West ? 

SCENE ii. Thomas a Becket. . 199 


Love reigns o'er all ! 

My father, who but you should hear the tale ? 
I had forsaken that fair Norman home, 
To seek my English convent, and those shores 
Denied me long. The first night of my journey 
There came to me a vision. All alone 
I roamed, methought, some forest lion-thronged, 
And dinned all night by breakers of a sea, 
Booming far off. In fear I raised my head : 
T'ward me there moved two Forms, female in garb, 
In stature and in aspect more than human : 
The loftier wore a veil. 


You knew the other? 


The Empress ! In that face, so sad of old, 
Was sadness more unlike that former sadness 
Than earthly joy could be. Within it, lived 
A peace to earth unknown, and, with that peace, 
The hope serene of one whose heaven is sure. 
She placed within my hand a shining robe, 
And spake : ' For him whom most thou lov'st on 

earth : ' 
It was a shroud. 


200 Thomas a Becket. 


A shroud ? 


And other none 

Than that which, 'mid the snows of Pontigny, 
Enswathed your sister, as in death she lay 
Amid the waxlight sheen. It bore that cross 

traced in sanguine silk before the burial. 
This is, my lord, men say, your day of triumph, 
Christ's foes subjected, and His rights restored ; 
Doubtless long years of greatness lie before you : 
Perhaps for that cause she, an Empress once, 
Knowing that triumph is our chief of dangers, 
Sent you that holy warning. 


I accept it. 
Spake not that other? 


Suddenly a glory 

Forth burst that lit huge trunk, and gloomiest cave : 
That queenlier Presence had upraised her veil. 

You knew her face ? 


Thomas a Becket. 201 


And learned what man shall be 
When risen to incorrupt. It was your sister ! 


Great God ! I guessed it. 


In her hand she held 

A crown whose radiance quenched the heavenly signs ; 
The star-crown of the elect who bore the Cross. 
With act benign within my hand she placed it, 
And spake : * For him thou lov'st the most on earth.' 
It was her being spake her total being 
Body and spirit, not her lips alone. 
I heard : I saw. That vision by degrees 
Ceased from before me ; long the light remained : 
A cloudless sun was rising, pale and dim, 
In that great glory lost. 


My daughter, tell me 


This storm is nothing ; nor a world in storm ! 
The rage of nations, and the wrath of kings ! 
God sits above the roaring water-floods : 

2O2 Thomas a Becket. AC] 

He in our petty tumults hath His peace, 

And we our peace in His. Man's life is good ; 

Death better far. 


Was this a dream or vision ? 

A vision, and from God. 


Both dream and vision 
Have been His heralds oft 


To make us strong 

In duteous tasks, not lull the soul, or soften. 
That vision past, tenfold in me there burned 
The craving once again to tread our England, 
Where fiercest is the battle of the faith. 
Thither this night I sail. 


In three days I. 

Ere then a perilous task must be discharged : 
The Pope hath passed the sentence of suspension 
On two schismatic bishops, London and York. 
See you these parchments with the leaded seals ? 


Thomas a Becket. 201 

They must be lodged within the offenders' hands 
Chiefly the hands of York and lodged moreover 
While witnesses are by. Llewellen failed : 
If this time he succeeds, and yet is captured, 
Send tidings in his place. 


Llewellen 's known ; 

Was late in England ; all your friends are known. 
Those prelates both are now, I think, in London : 
On Sunday morning this poor hand of mine 
Shall lodge that sentence, aye, and hold it fast, 
Within the hand of York. 


The danger 's great : 
The habit of a nun might lull suspicion : 
Not less, the deed accomplished 


Can they find 

Dungeon so deep that God will not be there, 
And those twain memories which beside me move, 
My soul's defence, a mother's and a brother's ? 
Or death ? One fears to die, for life is sin : 
One fears not death. Your sister 'mid the snows 
Upon this bosom died : she feared not death ; 

204 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

While breath remained she thanked her God, and 

praised Him. 

The Empress on this bosom died ; death near, 
She was most humbly sad, most sweetly fearful ; 
But, closer as it drew, her hope rose high, 
And all was peace at last. 


Then go, my child, 

You claim a great prize meet it is you find it. 
May He who made, protect you ! May His saints, 
Fair-flowering and full-fruited in His beam, 
Sustain you with their prayers ; His angel host 
In puissance waft you to your earthly bourne, 
In splendour to your heavenly. Earth, I think, 
Hath many a destined work for that small hand ; 
Sigh not as yet for heaven ! 


I will not, father : 
I wait His time. 


The wind has changed to south ; 
The sea grows smoother, and a crimson light 
Shines on the sobbing sands. Beyond the cliff 
The sun sets red. This is the mandate, child j 
Farewell, and pray for me ! 

\Jdonea kneels^ kisses his hand^ and departs. 

SCENE n. Thomas a Becket. 205 

HERBERT (returning with the rest"). 

Bad rumours thicken 

In three days hence I tread my native shores. 


With what intent ? 


To stamp this foot of mine 
Upon the bosom of a waiting grave, 
And wake a slumbering realm. 


May it please your Grace- 


My friends, seven years of exile are enough : 
If into that fair church I served of old 
I may not entrance make, a living man, 
Let them who loved me o'er its threshold lift 
And lay my body dead. 

206 Thomas a Becket. ACT v 




The boors at Sandwich, as his ship drew near, 
Noting the great cross archiepiscopal, 
Met him breast high in the waves. 


The women hailed him 
The orphan's father, and the widow's judge : 
From Sandwich to the gates of Canterbury 
The concourse, as he passed them, knelt, and sang 
' Blessed is he who cometh in God's name ! ' 


De Broc and our retainers, as he landed, 
Drew near, their armour hidden 'neath their vests, 
Protesting with fierce brows against our wrong. 
Becket thus answered : ' With your king's consent 
Two hundred men together heard him speak it 
The Pope suspends those bishops for their sin.' 
If Henry yields, all 's lost. 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. 207 


The king's consent ! 
'T was he who bade us crown the prince his son ! 


The game is played, and lost. The cards were with us 

A king magnanimous, and an angry queen, 

Foe of our foe ; an emperor whose sword 

Warred on the crosier; and an antipope; 

The nobles with us, and the people cowed. 

These things were for us; what was there against us? 

One man one man alone ; not trained in schools ; 

No canonist ; with scant ascetic fame ; 

A man once worldly warred on by the world. 

My lords, this man, subduing his own heats, 

And learning how to wait, hath to himself 

Well nigh subdued the realm. No course remains, 

This day, except to yield. 


We had these helps ; 
But policy had none. 


My lord, we had one : 
A day ere Becket landed all was marred. 
I at St. Paul's had sung that morn the mass : 

208 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

The king was standing with his courtiers round him ; 
Then drew to me a nun in black, and knelt : 
She raised, in humble sort, a scroll. I took it. 
She closed my hand in both of hers, and cried, 
* A mandate from the Pope, with his command 
To read the same aloud.' The papal seal 
The Fisherman's witnessed that scroll authentic : 
Perforce I read it. ; T was my own suspension ! 

The nun ? 


Through folly of the king she 'scaped : 
The boy but laughed ; then sent her to her convent, 
Therein to plot and pray. 


Her name? 

DE BROC (who has just ridden up}. 

Idonea ! 

The accursed veil hid not the hand ! I knew it. 
Long since I told her it should dig a grave. 
From John of Oxford this ! he landed late 
At Sandwich with the traitor. 


Sir, I thank you. 

SCENE in. Thomas a Becket. . 209 


6 The king has given consent to those suspensions, 
And stands impledged to fill the vacant sees. 
Wring, from this darkness, dawn ! At once un- 

In over-measure crown his six years' suit. 
Send him six canons from each vacant see : 
Let these elect the bishop he shall choose, 
In his own chapel, yea, in his own presence ; 
The royal heart will then be wholly yours : 
Make speed across the seas.' 


At once we must : 
I much misdoubt this youthful king. 


Attend : 

Where'er the traitor moves I hem him round 
With horsemen fierce and free. Without a guard 
He dares not move. Now mark ! A guard 7 s an army ! 
A larger army is that rabble-rout 
Which dogs his steps. Scare the young king with 

rumours ; 

Wound his self-love ; tell him the primate 's sworn 
To abase a prince ill crowned, 

2 io Thomas a Becket. A cr v. 


And be he warned, 

Becket in London, to deny him access ; 
His failure known, the people's zeal will slack, 
And wild tales rush abroad. 


The self- same rumours 
Shall fire the father-king. 


A sager counsel 


Sage heads and keen of England, and of France, 

That think ye see so far, I tell you this, 

Within the hollow heart of all your sageness 

A blind worm works ! Farewell ! Ere long you '11 

1 The strong hand of de Broc was worth us all.' 

(He gallops away. The rest, except GILBERT OF LONDON,) 
walk rapidly towards the harbour. ) 

GILBERT (alone), 

Somewhere I know not when I know not how 
I took, methinks, one step one little step 


Thomas a Becket. 211 

A hair's breadth only from the righteous way. 
Where will this end ? I know not. This I know, 
A man there is I hate his name is Becket. 


In parts of the hall tables are spread ; in other parts the guests 
converse. At the higher end stand two thrones, on one of 
BRITO, courtiers, ladies, guests, and minstrels, 


Be merry, lords ; we keep our birthday feast : 
The loneliest spots, and wildest, of our realm, 
London and Worcester's self, we will to share 
This day the general joy. 


God save the Queen ! 

CORNWALL (to Leicester]. 

Five weeks that splendour strengthened on his brow ; 
Revolted feudatories made submission ; 
Flanders and France were leagued with him in love : 
p 2 

212 Thomas a Becket. ACT v . 

Then once again that inward grief returned ; 
New nightmares vexed his bed. 


Set forth a dance ! 

LEICESTER (to Cornwall). 
Sir, the heart hardening maketh soft the brain : 
He is not what he was. Of old, when wrath 
Hurled forth its fiercest flame, his mind, not less 
Rushed up keen- edged within it and above it, 
A spear's length higher ; higher yet his will. 
To-day his angers drag aside his purpose. 
He hath done his own soul wrong. 


Minstrels, ye sleep ! 

(The KING enters with JOHN OF OXFORD ; they converse apart 
in a window.] 


Nay, those were heated moods j his native airs 
Dissolve that frosty caution exile taught him : 
He said, ' My lords of Rouen and of Sens 
Save for that king had brought me home in honour/ 
He plots ; but plots not war. 


What meant those letters ? 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. . 213 


His knave that blabbed his secret knew not that : 
One was for Scotland's king, and four, he thought, 
For princes rebel late in Wales ; the rest 
For earls in England malcontent. 


He dares not. 


Doubtless he dares not ; and that popular zeal 
Which hailed him landing, was but madness old. 
He plays a deeper game than treason. 




The realm invaded, or those earls in arms, 
He blows the Church's trumpet, marches to Lon- 
don ; 

Commends himself deliverer of the king ; 
Recovers straight his pupil's childish love, 
Or mildly, else, inthralls him. 


Flavel, sing ! 
I dance no more. 

214 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

LISIEUX (to Leicester}. 

Her Highness is not pleased : 
The man she hates hath triumphed. Year by year 
She urged his Highness 'gainst my lord the primate ; 
Of late she whets him with more complicate craft : 
She knows that all she likes the king dislikes, 
And feigns a laughing, new-born zeal for Becket, 
To sting the royal spleen. 

KING HENRY (to John of Oxford). 
He never should have trod these English shores. 


As freeman, never ; said I not as much ? 

The young king's council should have found those 

letters ; 

Tested their authenticity ; consigned 
Their writer to a prison. Please it, your Highness, 
; T is not too late. My Lord Justiciary 
Stands by the council's side. 


I dare not, John ; 

His death, though death by chance, would wrong my 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. 215 

Imprisonment itself requires pretext. 

There are that watch us : mingle with the crowd. 

\_John of Oxford departs. 


What doth our gracious liege so long in exile ? 
We languish in his absence, like poor vines 
Here in this sunless North. He plots, no doubt, 
With John of Oxford 'gainst our first of men, 
My lord the primate. Once I loathed that man : 
The more fool I ! If women he contemns, 
Man-like he fought his battle, and hath won it : 
The man that wins should wear ! I ever cry, 
' Let him win all ! ' 

(The KING approaches and sits on a chair not far from the 
QUEEN'S throne.} 

Welcome, good king and husband ! 
I praise your friend ! From England forth he fled 
A debtor and a bankrupt. He returns 
A Legate, trampling down your royal bishops ; 
I say, let him have all ! 


k Our queen is mirthful. 


When Becket rose, a man was England's king : 

2 1 6 Thomas a Becket. 


Finding such charge too onerous for such manhood 
He slipped his burthen, and a boy sits throned ; 
Wears a straw crown. Becket is king in substance ; 
Why not in name? Though secular kings, when saints, 
Have spurned that siren, Power, he need not fear her : 
Yon bird finds food in weeds poison to us, 
And Becket, meekly wearing crowns of earth, 
Shall merit heaven's the more. 


The queen goes mad ! 


Our southern realm remains. That sunnier half 
Outweighs the whole ; and yet not thus you deemed, 
Husband, that time when, Stephen dead, you sued 
Your wife's good aid. I made you King of England ! 
My strong Provencal fleet o'erawed that day 
Your English barons ; barred them from allies : 
That hour the work was mine ; the jest was yours : 
You thought it laughter- worth. My turn comes next ! 
Ye that have goblets, brim them ! Mark this cup : 
It flames with Albi's wine ! 

( QUEEN ELEANOR rises and stands on the highest step of the 
throne with a golden cup in her right hand.} 


Behold her, Lisieux ! 

SCENE iv. Thomas a Becket. . 217 

That smile is baleful as a winter beam 

Streaking some cliff wreck-gorged ; her hair and eyes 

Send forth a glare half sunshine and half lightning 


A toast, my lords ! the London merchant's son, 
Once England's primate henceforth King of Eng- 
land ! 

KING HENRY (leaping to his feet and half drawing his 

Woman, be silent ! 

FITZ-URSE (entering). 

May it please your Highness, 
My lords of York, London, and Salisbury 
Are come from England, charged withj news not 


My lord of London, worn, and somewhat faint, 
Rests by the gate. 


Command them to the presence. 

enter, followed by GILBERT OF LONDON, who leans on JOHN 

2 1 8 Thomas a Becket. 



attendants, waiting the arrival of BECKET. 


Here stood we on his consecration feast. 

The long years dragged : to-day they seem but weeks, 

A dove-flight of white weeks through vernal air. 


Herbert, you jar me with your ceaseless triumphs, 
And hope 'gainst hope. You are like a gold leaf 


From groves immortal of the Church triumphant 
To mock our Church in storm ! For manners' sake 
I pray you, chafe at times. The floods are out ! 
I say the floods are out ! This way and that 
They come a-sweeping. 


Wheresoe'er they sweep 
The eye of God pursues them, and controls : 
That which they are to Him, that only are they : 
The rest is pictured storm. 

SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. . 219 


How sped your journey? 


From first to last de Broc with wrong assailed us ; 

But on us, like a passionate south wind, blew 

The greetings of the loyal and the just. 

Two days we rode. London's old tower in sight, 

We met the citizens ; for miles forth streamed they 

To meet their citizen for so they hailed him. 

The poor came first ; then merchants and their wives ; 

Next, clad in gold, the mayor and aldermen ; 

And, lastly, priests intoning Benedictus 

Scarce heard amid the pealing of the bells. 

On London Bridge the houses at each side 

Hung tapestries forth, their roofs o'erswarmed with 


The ships all purpled by those flags that still 
Painted the crystal bosom of the Thames 
More swayed by popular ecstasies, so seemed it, 
Than shiftings of the wind. 


How looked our Thomas ? 


Passing, he gave the blessing with still smile. 

22O Thomas a Becket. 


One time he laughed : 't was when a crazy beldam 
Cried from the crowd, * Beware the knife, Arch- 
bishop ! ' 

Sighed once 't was when he passed his parents' door, 
Flower-garlanded ; the gayest in Cheapside. 


Where lodged he ? 


At my Lord of Winton's palace. 
At eve he paced the gardens, by his side 
St. Alban's abbot, Simon. I was near: 
I marked him draw the right hand of the abbot 
Within his robe ; then heard, l My friend, my friend, 
Things are not what they seem ! ' 


Saw he his pupil ? 


At ten next morning Joceline of Louvaine 
Sent by that pupil rudely sought the primate : 
The boy-king bade him back to Canterbury ! 
* Shall I not barely see the royal face ? ' 
Thus answered he no more. If ever grief 
Cast shadow on man's face, I saw it then. 
He sat till noon had struck ; then bade to horse. 


Thomas a Becket. 221 


Your homeward way was hardest ? 


Hardest thrice. 

The news had gone abroad, and many shunned us ; 
Aggression hourly wore a fiercer front ; 
More contumelious brows were on us bent : 
Here lay the bridge a ruin ; shafts assailed us ; 
The dyke was cut ; the road in water drowned. 
We heard, one time, the spleenful horn of knaves 
That hunted in his Grace's manors. Friend, 
You have had my tale. 


Mine will not bring you comfort. 
Go where I might, except among the poor, 
'T was all one huge conspiracy of error, 
Conspiracy, and yet unconscious half : 
For, though, beneath, there worked one plastic mind, 
The surface seemed fortuitous concurrence, 
One man the hook supplying, one the eye, 
Here the false maxim, there the fact suborned, 
This the mad hope, and that the grudge forgotten. 
The lawyer wrote the falsehood in the dust 
Of mouldering scrolls ; with sighs the Court-priest 
owned it ; 

222 Thomas a Becket. 


The minstrel tossed it gaily from his strings ; 
The witling lisped it, and the soldier mouthed it. " 
These lies are thick as dust in March 


Which galls us, 

Yet fruitful makes, perforce, the sufferers' fields. 
Patience, good friend ! 


I found, on my return, 
A swift, I fear a fatal growth of mischief. 
The coasts are guarded : three days since the forts 
Of Dover, Rochester, and Bletchinglee 
Received a force : the castles near the shore 
Bristle with arms. Spies walk among the people : 
De Broc spurs madly o'er the flat sea-sands, 
Wine-flushed, or wan with watching ; oft he flings 
A mailed hand far back, and cries, ' So long 
As honest steel can carve a wholesome dish 
No priest shall bid me starve/ 


Hark, hark, a hymn ! 

St. Stephen's feast comes soon. The good choir- 

SCENE v. Thomas a Becket. . 223 

.Rehearses some sweet anthem in his praise. 
There 's not a saint in heaven dearer to Thomas ! 

The Hymn. 

Princes sat, and spake against me, 

Sinners held me in their net : 
Thou, O Lord, wilt save Thy servant, 

For on Thee his heart is set. 
Strong is he whose strength Thou art : 
Plain his speech, and strong his heart. 

SCAILMAN (coming up rapidly). 
The royal troops make way through the south gate : 
Richard de Humet sent them he who left 
The king at Bayeux late. 

The Hymn. 

Gathered on a thousand foreheads 
Dark and darker grew the frown, 

Broadening like the pine-wood's shadow 
While the wintry sun goes down ; 

On the saint that darkness fell 

At last they spake ; it was his knell. 

As a maid her face uplifteth, 

Brightening with an inward light, 

When the voice of her beloved 

Calls her from a neighbouring height, 

Stephen raised his face on high, 

And saw his Saviour in the sky. 

224 Thomas a Becket. ACT 

A MAN IN A MASK {detaching himself from the 
crowd and joining theni). 

Flee while ye may ! the primate helped me once : 
Unless he 'scape to-night, he sees not Tuesday. 

[Rejoins the revellers. 

The Hymn. 

Dimm'd a moment was that vision ; 

O'er him burst the stony shower : 
Stephen, with his arms extended, 

For his murderers prayed that hour : 
To his prayer St. Paul was given ; 
Then he slept, and woke in heaven. 

(BECKET approaches at the head of a procession.} 

Lo, the procession comes ! 


The primate walks 
As one that died, and rose, and dies no more. 


I note in him one strength the world detects not : 
The Church for others hath seven sacraments ; 
For him she keeps an eighth the poor of Christ ! 
Lo there ! As often as he gives them alms 
He lays on them his hands. 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 225 


As one that loves them ? 


As one that, touching them, draws strength from 


Wins more than he bestows. He stops ; he stands j 
The exile gazes on his church again. 
He kneels with arms outstretched, like holy Andrew 
When venerating from afar his cross. 

(As BECKET enters the cathedral HERBERT goes up to him.} 

Now die whene'er God wills ! I never spake 
That word before. In thee Christ's Church hath con- 

\Becket looks at him fixedly, and passes on without reply. 



We are trapped and fooled. Death to the plotters ! 
Haste ! 


And which be they ? 


226 Thomas a Becket. 



Who knows ? 


A saint is Thomas ! 

None questions that our primate is a saint ; 
But sanctity, some think, hath crazed his brain ; 
He comes not forth, as once. 


A knight from London 

Saw all, and wept to tell it. Nine long hours 
The primate, girt with French and Flemish hordes, 
Besieged the young king's gates. Richard de Luci 
Past hope arriving, quenched the flames just lit : 
The rebels fled by night. 


The father-king 
Will rage at this. 


He '11 rage that two months since, 
When Thomas wept before the royal feet, 
He suffered his return. The holy queen 
Pledged faith that hour for Canterbury's sons, 
Whom as her own she loved. 

SCENE vi. Thomas a Becket. 227 


Who told you that ? 


The same old knight, kinsman of John of Oxford ; 
And John, he said, saw all. 

AN OLD KNIGHT (riding up\ 

God save you, sirs ! 

Conspirators are ye fat and well-liking ! 
Which lies the loudest ? 


Nay, sir, true men we. 


Sirs, ye are Saxons ; Saxons speak no truth, 
Else, wherefore hid they long like thieves in caverns 
To keep their treasons warm? What beast are you 
That with your foul hand stain my horse's neck 
Which shone but now as glass ? Let none deceive 

you ! 

They '11 leave you later to the royal wrath. 
Beware of full-fed priests and haughty bishops ! 
The Conqueror sent you bishops staid and sage, 
Most part from Normandy. They spake not English ; 
So vexed you not with sermons. What, my friends, 


228 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

A man may go to heaven, yet hear not sermons ! 
That chime 's my dinner bell ! God save you, sirs, 
And purge your primate's pride ! A saint I deem 


No doubt there 's healing latent in his bones ; 
De Broc has sworn to boil the proud flesh off them, 
To make the relics sooner serviceable. 
Be wary, sirs ; the knife is at your throat ! 

[Rides away. 




Three bishops had arrived the clay before me ; 
They instanced with such art the primate's rage, 
Compassionated so well the kingdom's wrongs, 
Some drew their swords; while fiercely cried the king, 
'Your counsel, lords?' They answered, 'We are 

priests : 

Your captains and your peers shall best advise you/ 
Leicester spake first ; 't was parable, not counsel. 

SCENE vii. Thomas a Becket. 229 

Malvoisin next a babbler. Bohun thus : 

1 1 know not what can deal with knaves revolted 

But wicker- rope or sword.' Then, mild of voice, 

Gilbert of London, rising, spake : ' My lords, 

Behoves us in this crisis to be meek, 

Lest we too much inflame the primate's zeal, 

Who, like a king, an army at his back, 

In vengeance sweeps from shore to shore of England, 

To abase a king ill- crowned.' 


What answered Henry ? 


There fell on him that frenzy of his race 

Which threats the world with doom. I know not 


The men that saw it, saw as in a trance, 
And what they saw divulge not, save in part. 
The fire-cloud of that wrath burned out at last : 
The 111 Spirits left him. On the rush-strewn floor 
There sat he glaring maniac-like, the straws 
Now kneading and now gnawing. That too past. 
The king was standing in their midst : his eye 
Slowly he turned from each to each ; then spake 
With pointed finger, and with serpent hiss : 

230 Thomas a Becket. A CT \>. 

' Slaves, slaves, not barons hath my kingdom bred, 
Slaves that in silence stand, and eye their king 
Mocked by a low-born knave ! ' 


Did none reply? 


No man. From that mute hall four knights forth 


Fitz-Urse, de Tracy, Moreville, Richard Brito. 
At twelve last night they entered Saltwood gates : 
De Broc attended them. 


The end draws nigh. 




It was at Pontigny. His mass just said 
Within the chapel of the proto-martyr, 


Thomas a Becket. 

He knelt in prayer. The words were : 'Thomas, 

Thomas ! ' 
'Who art Thou, Lord?' he answered. Then the 


6 Thomas, I am thy Brother, and thy Lord : 
My Church shall in thy blood be glorified, 
And thou in Me/ 


That voice was but his thought ! 


The abbot then of Pontigny, just chosen 

Lyon's archbishop, came to say farewell : 

He stood behind a pillar and heard all. 

From him I learned it. Thomas kept it secret 

Thank God ! What comes to him shall come to us : 

There 's nought to fear. 


Herbert, I love my friend; 

But 't was his triumph, not his death, I looked for : 
For him I scarce should fear to die \ and yet 
I love not death. Ere comes that hour, there 7 s 


To learn, to read, to do and to repent. 
The solid earth shivers as ship in storm : 

232 Thomas a Becket. ACTV. 

The ground is earthquake-shaken : shadows vast 
Far flung, and whence we know not, o'er it sweep : 
Fiercely the lightnings glare 


Meantime the Church 
Nor hastes, nor halts, nor frets, nor is amazed. 


What doth she then ? 


A smile upon her lips, 

She stands with eyes close fixed upon her Lord, 
Nay, on His sacred vestment's lowest hem, 
To see where next He moves. 


Herbert, I wronged you : 
A mystic, feeding on faith's inmost lore 
A dreamer, scanning mysteries in flowers 
I guessed not of your strength. 

SCENE ix. Thomas a Becket. . 233 



What charge they 'gainst the man? What help 
demand they ? 


They say he leads an army through the land ; 
And pray you to arrest him. 


Tell those lords 

They know as well as I that plot 's a fiction : 
Five soldiers made his army. Three days since 
Becket stood here : what hindered them to stay him ? 


My lord, their purpose absolute was to stay him : 
Mischance bound up their arm. A Roman bolt 
Flung by a nun's white hand among the bishops 
Scattered the covey. Without aid from them, 
The people, Becket-mad 

234 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 


I understand : 

That which the Council fain had done, but dared not, 
It now would do through me. Return, my lord, 
And tell them that this realm's justiciary 
Is not their faction's hangman. Bid them know 
I walk the ways of justice. Four years since 
I deemed that Thomas sinned against the law, 
And acted on that thought. When Thomas smote 


I deemed his Censures dealt, ' errante clave ' : 
They galled me not. This day men do him wrong, 
Since right he had to visit the young king, 
Who loathes even now the knaves that ill advised 

I hunt not with their pack. 




St. Stephen's festival ! Another Christmas ! 

SCENE x.' Thomas a Becket. . 235 

Easter 's the Christian sunrise ; Pentecost 
Its noontide, flaming forth in golden rays ; 
But Christmas is the aurora, pure and white ; 
A feast it is of innocence and snow, 
The Maid and Babe, angels and simple shepherds ; 
J T is Mary's week in winter, sweet as May : 
The Man of Sorrows comes, but comes not yet ; 
The sin of earth forgotten in the Saviour. 


What stranger 7 s yon ? 


They call him Edward Grim ; 
A Cambridge scholar. He had thirsted long 
To see the primate. 


Ill he timed his visit : 
None wants him here. 

GRIM (in a low voice to a monk). 

Proceed, my friend, I pray you. 

THIRD MONK (to Grim). 

On Christmas night he sang the midnight mass 
Our Benedictine rite. At noon he preached, 
' Peace upon earth,' his text. * We have not here 

236 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

Abiding city, but we look for one ; ' 

Thus he began : ' Is this at war with peace ? 

Nay, this alone is peace : bereft of all things, 

Then most our God is ours ; and God is peace.' 

Next spake he of the saints of Canterbury : 

' Ye have a martyr likewise, St. Elphege, 

And God may give you, friends, ere along another.' 

On all sides sobs burst forth, and wail was heard, 

' Father, desert us not ; ' one little moment 

With them he wept ; and then in strength resumed : 

Like some great anthem was that sermon's close, 

The whole church glowing with seraphic joy. 


The man is changed. 


Seldom he speaks ; his smile 
Is like that smile upon a dead man's face, 
A mystery of sweetness. 


Lo, he comes ! 

BECKET (entering). 

Herbert, my friend beloved, depart this night ; 
Consign these letters to the good French King : 

SCENE x. Thomas a Becket. . 237 

And you, my chaplain, Richard, speed to Norwich ; 
Beseech its reverend bishop to absolve 
All who in ignorance erred. 


Forbid it, God ! 

My lord, once only pardon disobedience ! 
We two have shared great dangers : let us share, 
If so God wills, the last ! 


I have had from you, 

Herbert, great love ! I claim this hour a greater : 
Shake not my heart with any earthly passion. 
More late we say farewell. Bertram, next morn 
Seek out that aged priest we met at Wrotham, 
That kind old man who serves another's charge : 
This deed confers upon him Penshurst's church ; 
Let it be his ere noon. My brave Llewellen, 
To Rome, and bear these letters to the Pope ! 
That bitter word you spake at Clarendon 
Saved me when all but lost. Except for you 
I had up-towered this day in Europe's face 
Robed in the total greatness of my country 
Within, a soul undone ! At dawn we keep 
The feast of him who, sole of the apostles, 

238 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

Died not for Christ. Perchance he loved Him most ! 
Perchance so great a thing is love, that death, 
The martyr's death, could add not to its greatness. 
The Church boasts next her Holy Innocents, 
Martyrs through grace, though not their own intention : 
What saint makes beautiful the third day hence ? 

It lacks as yet its crown. 


We give it then 

To St. Elphege, martyr of Canterbury 
Then when the Dane devastated the land : 
His anthem I must hear once more. Farewell ! 
(He moves away, but stops for a moment before a window.} 

How fair, how still, that snowy world ! The earth 
Lies like a white rose under eyes of God 
May it send up a sweetness ! 

Thomas a Becket. 239 


THE PRIOR OF MERTON (looking to the west}. 
If that 's no mist, one hope 

(To SCAILMAN, who approaches him.} 

My Lord of Winton, 

Though sick, arrives ere sunset, litter-borne : 
That kingly countenance would o'erawe the fiercest 
Without his pastoral staff, or fifty knights. 
See you yon dust ? We ; re saved ! 


That dust, good prior, 

Is dust from dusty tomes, which dims your eyes ; 
The primate bade that old man house at home 
A white head, England's hope. Our help is here : 

(Lifting some keys. ) 

These roofs have many a hiding-place. Moreover 
The city gates are ours. 


Escape is none. 

If Thomas has refused old Winton's aid, 
He will not hide, nor fly. 

240 Thomas a Becket. ACT v> 



Within his chamber we had sung our nocturns : 
The office finished, for an hour or more 
He stood beside the casement, open flung, 
Despite the flying flakes. I heard him murmur, 
1 In years remote they deck the martyr's shrine 
Not many weep above a churchman's grave. 
Is that a loss ? Ah me ! ' Again I heard him : 
f Herbert, my tenderest friend, and John, my wisest, 
Both, both for me have lost their earthly all : 
These must live on, bereft/ More late he asked 
If Sandwich might be reached ere break of day. 
We answered, 'Yea two hours ere dawn.' Once 


He stood forth-gazing through the winter night ; 
Then spake aloud, ' Whatever God hath in store, 
Thomas will wait it patient in his church : 
He leaves that church no more.' 

SCENE xii. Thomas a Becket. . 241 


The last chance lost ! 


At yonder altar of St. Benedict 

He said his mass. Next in the chapter-house 

Conversed with two old monks of things divine : 

Then for his confessor he sent, and made 

Confession with his humble wont ; which ended, 

He sat with us an hour, and held discourse 

Full gladsomely. I never marked till then 

How joyous was his eye. An old monk cried, 

' Thank God, my lord, you make good cheer ! ' He 

' Who goeth to his Master should be glad. ? 


His Master ! Aye, his Master ! Still as such 
He thought of God ; he loved Him ; in himself 
Saw nothing great or wise simply a servant. 
Ere yet his earliest troubles had begun 
I heard him say, ' A bishop should protect 
That holy thing, God's Church, to him committed, 
Not only from the world, but from himself, 
Loving, not hers, but her, with reverent love, 
A love that, on her gazing, fears to touch her. 

242 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

As Mary in the guardian Patriarch's house, 
Such should she be in his.' 


Through life thus wrought he ! 


The Church's wealth will one day be her ruin 
He hated rapine ; warred on sacrilege ; 
Too soon perchance yet still as poor man lived ; 
Trod down abuses. Had he reigned ten years 
His name had been for aye ' the Great Reformer.' 
Peace, peace ! O God, we make our tale of him, 
As men that praise the dead ! 

(After a paused] 

Against the primate they can find no charge : 
The Council failed. That brings the danger closer : 
The sword of law flung down, the assassin's knife 
At morn, they say, the palace will be stormed : 
With him at least I die. Alas, poor Herbert ! 

We who have stalls are summoned. Lo, they come. 

(The monks of St. Augustine's enter the Cathedral ; they 
advance to the chapel of the chapter, accompanied by JOHN 
OF SALISBURY and his companion, and immediately begin 

SCENE xii. Thomas a Becket. 243 

vespers. During the singing of the psalms, a wild cry bursts 
out in the streets, accompanied by a rush of soldiers against 
the southern gates. The monks continue the sacred rite. 
A few minutes later a procession enters from the cloister, 
BECKET walking last, preceded by his cross-bearer. Having 
reached a spot in the north transept, midway between the 
altar of the Blessed Virgin and that of St. Benedict, he 
stands still. ) 


Those who are monks must take their place at vespers : 
Make haste, and join the Chapter. Ye are late. 

(His attendants obey him ; none remaining with BECKET except 
GRIM. A few monks stand close within the western gates of 
the Cathedral. A rush of feet is heard outside, and cries of 
* Open the gates save us ! ') 


Keep barred the gates the soldiers once amongus 

FITZ-STEPHEN (coming up}. 
The primate bids you fling the portals wide : 
He says a church must not be made a castle : 
6 Let all my people in.' 

(FlTZ-STEPHEN retTirns.) 

( The gates are opened ; a terrified crowd rushes in ; soldiers pur- 
sue them ; but on entering the Cathedral are overawed and 
kneel. Vespers proceed. ) 

The Anthem. 

Behold a great High Priest with rays 
Of martyrdom's red sunset crowned ; 
R 2 

244 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

None other like him in the day? 

Wherein he trod the earth was found. 
The swords of men unholy met 

Above that just one and he bled : 
But God, the God he served, hath set 

A wreath unfading on his head. 


A. martyr's anthem ! 


Yea ; our great Elphege. 


The church grows dark as night. 


A deed more dark 
Will make the night ashamed. 

The Anthem. 

Blest is the people, blest and strong, 

Whose Pontiffs count a martyred saint ; 
His virtuous memory, lasting long, 

Shall keep their altars pure from taint. 
The heathen plot ; the tyrants rage ; 

But in their saint the poor shall find 
A shield, or after many an age 

A light restored to guide the blind. 


We are here but three. 

SCENE xii. Thomas a Becket. 245 


You heard his Grace dismiss them : 
The last I saw was Henry of Auxerre : 
He bore the cross yon scholar caught it falling. 

( The soldiers rise from their knees and form round the gates. ) 

My lord archbishop, seek the sanctuary! 
Stand fast by the high altar 


Nay, the crypt 


My place is here; farewell, my friends ! 


In the cloister 

I hear an armed tread : a postern ? s there ; 
Not many know it. Who be those four knights, 
In sable mailed, and fiercely onward striding, 
With vizors down ? 


Their guide alone I know 
De Broc it is de Broc ! 

246 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 


Seek out, my friends, 

That chapel where they sing ye cannot see it 
The rite completed, bid them chaunt Te Deum. 

(The PRIOR and FITZ-STEPHEN depart; EDWARD GRIM alone 
remains with BECKET. The four knights arrive, but at 
first do not see the primate, ivho is screened by a pillar. } 


Where is the traitor? 

BECKET (advancing, and standing opposite the altar of 
St. Benedict}. 

Here I stand ; no traitor, 
But priest of God, and primate of this land. 

FITZ-URSE (after looking at him long). 
God help thee, priest ! At once absolve those bishops! 


The Church of God suspends them for their sin ; 
The king approved that sentence ; thrice approved : 
Two hundred heard him : you were of their number. 



I saw you, and God saw you there. 

SCENE xii. Thomas a Becket. 247 

Remove those Censures. 


You have had your answer. 
Reginald, Reginald ! a time there was 
You vowed to me your fealty. Lo, this day 
You seek my blood. 


I owe you fealty none 
Which wars against my king. 


Alas ! light man, 

That giv'st thine all for nought ! If yet thou canst, 
Repent and live ! 


He threatens lo, he threatens ! 
Our lives he threatens, and reviles the king ! 
He '11 place the realm beneath an interdict ; 
Traitor ! thine hour is come ! 

(He seizes BECKET ; the rest also close around him.) 


Ye that would slay the shepherd, spare the sheep ! 

248 Thomas a Becket. ACT v. 

If not, I bind you with the Church's Sentence. 
That which ye do, do here. 

FITZ-URSE (drawing his sword}. 

Loose him, and slay ! 

BECKET (joining his hands over his eyes, and bending 


My spirit I commend to God Most High, 
The prayers of Mary, mother of my Lord, 
And those two martyrs of the Church of God, 
Saints Denys and Elphege. 

(WILLIAM DE TRACY draws his sword, and aims a blow at 
BECKET. EDWARD GRIM intercepts it with his arm, which 
is nearly severed. The sword descends, notwithstanding, on 
the head of BECKET. ) 


I yield Thee thanks, my Maker, and my God ! 
Receive my soul. 

(He falls forward on his knees. The second blow is struck by 
FITZ-URSE, and the third by BRITO.) 



For the great Name of Jesus, and that Church 
Cleansed by His saving blood, with joy I die. 

\He falls forward on his face and dies. 

SCENE xii. Thomas a Becket.. 249 


O black and dreadful day ! Earth reels beneath us ! 


The traitor 's dead ! He '11 rise no more. Rush forth ' 
And ever make your cry, ' King's men are we ! ' 

\They rush forth waving their swords, and shouting 
1 Kin^s men ! ' 


The king is neither. Sir, he 's Angevine, p. 5. 

' In the eleventh century and in the thirteenth there was an 
English King and an English People ; but in the twelfth such 
objects are hardly discernible. There is, indeed, a King of 
England, the mightiest and richest prince of Europe ; but he is 
a mere foreigner, a Frenchman living in France, devoting his 
energies to French objects, and holding England almost as a 
province of Anjou. And as with the position of the island, so 
with its internal controversies.' Saint Thomas of Canterbury 
and his Biographers, by Edward A. Freeman (Historic Essays}. 

To the same effect Lord % Macaulay writes : * During the 
century and a half which followed the Conquest there is, to 
speak strictly, no English history. . . . Almost every historian 
of England has expatiated with a sentiment of exultation on the 
power and splendour of her foreign masters, and has lamented 
the decay of that power and splendour as a calamity to our 
country. This is, in truth, as absurd as it would be in a 
Haytian negro of our time to dwell with national pride on the 
greatness of Louis XIV., and to speak of Blenheim and Ra- 
millies with patriotic regret and shame. The Conqueror and 
his descendants to the fourth generation were not Englishmen ; 
most of them were born in France ; their ordinary speech was 
French ; almost every high office in their gift was filled by a 

252 Notes. 

Frenchman ; every acquisition which they made on the Continent 
estranged them more and more from the population of our 
island.' Macaulay's History of England, chap. i. 

She cut her flaxen Saxon tresses short, p. 5* 

Some legends have found more believers in recent than in 
early times. Canon Morris ' speaks of the romance respecting 
Becket's Saracen mother as ' a fable which is not mentioned by . 
one of the many contemporary biographers of our saint, ' adding, 
in a note, ' Writers so various as Godwin, Cave, Thierry, 
and Sharon Turner, Froude, and Giles, the author of the Cologne 
Life of 1639, Cola, Beaulieu, and our own accurate Alban 
Butler, all admit the story of Gilbert's escape from a Saracen 
prison, and his marriage with a Saracen princess. Mr. Bering- 
ton was the first to reject it ' (p. 401). 

He scourged those boors of Flanders from the realm, p. 6. 

Henry had had the aid of Archbishop Theobald as well as 
of his successor in such enterprises. Mr. Green, in his recent 
History, says : ' He [Henry] had been placed on the throne, as 
we have seen, by the Church. His first work was to repair the 
evils which England had endured till his accession by the re- 
storation of the system of Henry I. ; and it was with the aid 
and counsel of Theobald that the foreign marauders were driven 
from the realm, the castles demolished, in spite of the opposi- 
tion of the baronage, the King's Court and the Exchequer 
restored. Age and infirmity, however, warned the primate to 
retire from the post of Minister, and his power fell into the 
younger and more vigorous hands of Thomas a Becket, who 
had long acted as his confidential adviser,' p. 102. Mr. Green 
,also remarks as follows: 'England was rescued from this 
chaos of misrule by the efforts of the Church. . . . The com- 

1 ' The Life and Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Can- 
terbury/ by John Morris, Canon of Northampton. 

Notes. 253 

pact between king and people had become a part of constitu- 
tional law in the charter of Henry, but its legitimate consequence 
in the responsibility of the Crown for the execution of the 
compact was first drawn out by these ecclesiastical councils. 
. . . Extravagant, and unauthorised as their expression of it 
may appear, they did express the right of a nation to good 
government . . . "To the Church," Thomas (Becket) after- 
wards justly said, with the proud consciousness of having been 
Theobald's right hand, " Henry owed his crown and England 
her deliverance." ' Short History of the English People, by 
J. R. Green, p. 99. 

The garden dial 
Is lawful appanage of the gardens lord, p. 17. 

One of the most remarkable men of the twelfth century was 
the courtier Bishop of Lisieux. He truckled to Henry, yet he 
knew well enough at which side justice lay. He writes thus to 
Becket, A.D. 1165: 'Every doubt which was on our minds is 
now dissipated, and the purity of your motives is become so 
evident, that honest men are rejoiced and your enemies are 
confounded. Justice and the liberty of the Church you pre- 
ferred to every earthly emolument ; for had you consented to 
these new abuses, not only might you have lived in peace ; you 
might have reigned with your prince. . . . You even exposed 
your life. But it seems that there the king was indulgent, 
and had not lost all affection for you. He strove to intimidate 
you into compliance.' He proceeds : * Your cause is mani- 
festly just, since you contend for the liberty of the Church, which 
cannot be attacked without interesting our faith. . . . This it 
was which drew your suffragans so basely from you. . . . The 
inferior clergy, for the most part, love you much, but the fear 
of banishment withholds them, and they are contented to sigh, 
and in secret to express their wishes for your safety. As to the 
nobility, they have formed, as it were, a conspiracy against the 
Church, in all things to oppose her honour and advantage. . . , 

254 Notes. 

They say the king should not govern with less dignity than his 
predecessors, who were less powerful than he ; and every 
attempt they made, however contrary to religion and reason, 
these men pretend was a part of the royal prerogative. By 
flattery they prevail on him to engage in contests, hoping in fact 
that his power may be weakened in the quarrel, and that 
themselves shall recover their lost privilege of transgressing the 
laws with impunity.' He concludes characteristically : ' Fare- 
well ; and if you mention the contents of this letter ; take care to 
conceal my name? Berington's ' Hist.' vol. ii. pp. 189-91. 

Phcebus paced the wooded mountains, p. 22. 

These stanzas are an imitation of an old Romaic poem, 
one of the ' Robber songs ' sung for centuries by the bandits, 
more properly called * outlaws,' on the mountains of Greece. 
The mingling of Greek mythology with a sentiment tenderer 
than that which commonly belonged to the poetry engendered 
by that mythology in Pagan times is interesting. 

This day the Spirit Prophetic on me falls, p. 50. 

This prophetic warning is recorded by Canon Morris, 1 with a 
reference to Giraldus Cambrensis (note, p. 409). 

These be Beckefs clients, 
Secure from civil courts, p. 54. 

It was on this question that the contest between Henry 
and Becket arose, and when Becket first engaged to observe the 
Customs, he probably regarded this as the matter chiefly at issue. 
It proved to be but a small part of that great question, which 
otherwise would have speedily found its solution. 

Mr. Green thus explains the royal claim : ' Henry at once 
proposed to the bishops that a clerk convicted of a crime should 

1 ' The Life and Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket.' 

Notes. 255 

be deprived of his orders, and handed over to the king's tri- 
bunals. The local Courts of the Feudal Baronage had been 
roughly shorn of their power by the judicial reforms of Henry I. , 
and the Church Courts, as the Conqueror had created them, 
with their exclusive right of justice over the whole body of edu- 
cated men throughout the realm, formed the one great exception 
to the system which was concentrating all jurisdiction in the 
hands of the king. The bishops yielded, but opposition came 
from the very prelate whom Henry had created to enforce his 
will. ... A prudent man might have doubted the wisdom of 
destroying the only shelter which protected piety or learning 
against a despot like the Red King ; and in the mind of Thomas 
the ecclesiastical immunities were parts of the sacred heritage of 
the Church.' * 

With equal candour Mr. Freeman points out in how diffe- 
rent a light from that in which we see it, this immunity must 
have presented itself to the men of the twelfth century: ' We 
mnst remember that, if the so-called liberties of the Church were 
utterly repugnant to our notions of settled government, they did 
not appear equally so in those times. The modern idea of 
government is an equal system of law for every part of the terri- 
tory and for every class of the nation. In the middle ages 
every class of men, every district, every city, tried to isolate 
itself within a jurisprudence of its own. Nobles, burghers, 
knights of orders, wherever either class was strong enough, 
refused the jurisdiction of any but their own peers. . . . Even 
within the ecclesiastical pale, we find peculiar jurisdictions, 
orders, monasteries, chapters, colleges, shake off the authority 
of the regular ordinaries, and substitute some exceptional 
tribunal of their own. ... In short, the privileges for which 
Thomas contended transferred a large part of the people, and 
that the most helpless part, from the bloody grasp of the King's 
Courts to the milder jurisdiction of the bishop. . . . One of the 

1 'A Short History of the English People,' p. 103. 

256 Notes. 

Constitutions of Clarendon, that which forbade the ordination of 
villains without the consent of their lords, was directly aimed at 
the only means by which the lowest class in the State could 
rise. ' ! 

It need hardly be remarked that changes, in themselves 
good and eventually necessary, may yet prove fatal if made 
prematurely. In the Saxon times the civil and spiritual powers 
worked conjointly, the bishop and the sheriff sitting in the same 
Court. William the Conqueror was the first to separate the 
two jurisdictions in England. He caused the bishop to sit in 
his own Court without an assessor. A more developed Canon 
Law thus necessarily grew up, and more frequent appeals to the 
central see. Henry II. disliked this effect of the change, and 
proposed to remedy it, not by returning to the old system, 
but by another innovation, one which would have deprived 
society at once, and with no preparation, of a protection against 
hard-handed oppression which the feebler part of society had 
enjoyed in all Christian lands from the earlier centuries. The 
consequences likely to have resulted, if the clergy had sud- 
denly been deprived of their privilege of being tried in the 
spiritual Courts only, Becket would have illustrated by the in- 
justice with which, during the first two days of the Council 
of Northampton, the highest ecclesiastic in the land had been, 
on a series of notoriously false pretences, condemned to the 
payment of sums so enormous that the sentence might well have 
consigned him to a dungeon for life. That this prosecution 
was a combination of fraud and violence on Henry's part is 
admitted by historians wholly opposed to Becket, as Hume and 
Sharon Turner. 

At Clarendon I sinned thus much all know, p. 74. 
Mr. Hurrell Froude asserts ('History,' p. 81) that the 
pledge given by Becket at Clarendon relative to the Royal 

1 ' St. Thomas of Canterbury and his Biographers' ('Historic Essays/ 
by Edward A. Freeman). 

Notes. 257 

Customs was given by him 'subject to the Tope's approval 1 ,' 
and adds, ' Thus the decrees of Clarendon, for want of his (the 
Pope's) confirmation, remained incomplete.' This statement, 
which would clear Becket from the charge commonly brought 
against him, does not seem to be confirmed by early authorities, 
as far as I know. 

Few things are more pathetic than this single lapse on the 
part of Becket so frankly confessed by him, so bitterly 
expiated, the result at once of so much pressure, and so much 
treachery practised against him and sometimes, at least, so 
entirely misrepresented. Lord Lyttelton, in his ' History 
of Henry II.,' relied unhappily on a document unworthy 
of his credence. That document, is adverted to by Dr. 
Lingard as the ' spurious letter attributed to Foliot ' by which 
'Lord Lyttelton was deceived.' Mr. Berington, a writer of 
known moderation, had replied to it soon after the appear- 
ance of Lord Lyttelton's work, in his 'History of Henry II.,' 
vol. ii. appendix ii. He shows, first, that it is hardly to be 
equalled for the number of statements which it contains con- 
trary to known facts. Secondly, that in its account of the 
Council of Clarendon it is opposed to all contemporary histories, 
including those of Roger de Hoveden and Diceto, who were 
probably from their situation present on the occasion. Thirdly, 
that the dreadful charges which it brings against Becket must, 
if true, have been frequently flung in his face, especially the 
charge that he had addressed the bishops with the words, ' It 
is my master's will that I should forswear myself, and I now 
submit to it and incur perjury, afterwards to do penance as I 
am able ; ' while, on the contrary, such charges were never 
urged against him, whether by the king's followers, by the 
bishops when addressing him in letters or appealing against 
him to the Pope, or by Foliot himself when assailing him at 
Northampton and at Sens. Fourthly, he specifies four several 
circumstances stated by that letter to have taken place at the 
Council of Clarendon, circumstances aided by which Becket, 

258 Notes. 

as alleged, seduced the bishops into accepting the Customs ; 
and he shows that those circumstances took place, not at 
Clarendon, but at Northampton, where it is admitted that 
Becket alone stood out against the Customs, his fellow -bishops 
accepting them. He concludes that a letter full of allegations 
so easily refuted could hardly have been written by any one 
within two years of the Council of Northampton that it pro- 
bably was never written by Foliot, and that if his, it certainly 
was not intended for Becket's eyes. To imagine that Becket 
would have left such charges without a prompt reply he shows 
to be wholly absurd. Foliot's supposed letter would have 
offended his patron not less than it would have outraged Becket. 
It represented the king simply as a tyrant, and the Council 
of Clarendon as a ' Latrocinium, ' which of course could have 
had no moral claim to validity. 

Neither Lord Lyttelton nor Foliot's supposed letter corro- 
borates an assertion often made in late times, viz. that Becket 
not only promised at Clarendon to observe the Royal Customs, 
but when the ' Constitutions ' professing to embody them were 
submitted to the assembly, attached his signature, and, 
as some have added, his seal, to that document. Such a 
statement is unsupported, and in several cases directly denied, 
by the contemporary authorities I have at the present the means 
of consulting with the exception of FitzStephen viz., by 
Edward Grim, Roger of Pontigny, John of Salisbury, Alan of 
Tewkesbury, William of Canterbury, and Herbert of Bosham. 
Roger de Hoveden states that he promised to observe the 
Customs, but that on the schedule of the Constitutions being 
presented to him, * the Archbishop of Canterbury swore that he 
would never annex his seal to that writing or confirm those 
laws.' Herbert of Bosham details the arguments by which 
Becket assailed the ' Constitutions ' at Clarendon. Speed, * 
Berington, and Lingard state that he refused to seal them, and 
make no mention of his signing them. 

1 ' History of Great Britain,' Edit. 1632, p. 489. 

Notes. 259 

My sin has found me out, p. 89. 

The monks themselves affirmed that their election of 
Becket to the primacy was free. It may, notwithstanding, be true 
that they would have preferred an archbishop who had belonged 
to their monastery, and that, though not coerced, they were 
influenced by the Royal choice. 

A successor of mine, p. 117. 

St. Edmund of Canterbury during his exile found a refuge 
in the abbey of Pontigny. 

Thus writes he to the apostate of Cologne, p. 122. 

It would hardly have seemed possible that Henry, who had 
frequently appealed to the Pope, could have thought of trans- 
ferring, on personal grounds, his spiritual allegiance from one 
whom he had ever acknowledged as its lawful object, to a 
pretender. His temporary defection is thus recorded by Lin- 
gard ('History of England,' edit. 1854, p. 76): 'He even 
opened a correspondence with the Emperor ; and in a general 
diet at Wurtzburg his ambassadors made oath, in the name of 
their master, that he would reject Alexander and obey the 
authority of his rival. Of this fact there cannot be a doubt. 
It was announced to the German nations by an Imperial edict, 
and is attested by an eye-witness, who from the Council wrote 
to the Pope a full account of the transaction. Henry, however, 
soon repented of his precipitancy. His bishops refused to 
disgrace themselves by transferring their allegiance at the nod 
of their prince ; and he was unwilling to involve himself in a 
new, and apparently a hopeless, quarrel. To disguise or excuse 
his conduct, he disavowed the act, attributed it to his envoys, 
and afterwards induced them also to deny it. John of Oxford 
was despatched to Rome, who, in the presence of Alexander, 

S 2 

260 Notes. 

swore that at Wurtzburg he had done nothing contrary to the 
faith of the Church, or to the honour and service of the Pontiff.' 
To the same effect is Lord Lyttelton's narrative (' Hist.' vol. 
ii. p. 449). He gives the letter of Henry to the Archbishop 
of Cologne contracting that engagement. He next states that 
Richard of Ivelchester and John of Oxford were sent to 
Wurtzburg, where a Diet was assembled for the acknowledg- 
ment of the anti-Pope ; and he proceeds : ' And (if we may 
believe the Emperor's letters patent soon afterwards published) 
did there, in the name of their master, take an oath upon the 
reliques of saints, that the King of England and his whole 
kingdom ivould faithfully adhere to the Emperor's party, and 
constantly acknowledge the Pope, whom he had acknowledged, 
without doing anything further to support the schismatic Orlando 
[Alexander III.] ' The only excuse which he makes is that the 
engagement of Henry's envoys should perhaps be considered as 
conditional on Alexander III.'s not changing his course as 
regards Becket. He makes a remarkable suggestion: ' Perhaps 
they [Henry's envoys] had acted upon secret instructions, which he 
thought proper to deny to all but themselves. However this may 
be, it is sufficiently evident that his honour suffered very much 
from the transaction. For he did not frighten Alexander into 
any compliance with his demands ; nor yet did he quit him, 
upon their being rejected, as by his letter to the Archbishop of 
Cologne he had promised to do.' (Ibid. pp. 451-2.) 

We have a better augury his heart is good, p. 129. 
Numberless passages in Becket's letters prove that his early 
attachment to the king had never ceased ; nay, that to the last 
he believed that his opposition to the king's demands was the 
most faithful service he could pay to a king misled by courtiers 
and flatterers. 

In my name write, and thus, p. 132. 
The freedom of speech used by Becket was as great as that 

Notes. 261 

tolerated by him. It is thus that he wrote to his envoy at 
Rome on the appointment of the two legates whose commis- 
sion virtually suspended his own legantine authority. The 
translation is that given in Mr. Hurrell Froude's valuable 
history of Becket's struggle, p. 242 : 'If this be true, then 
without doubt his lordship the Pope has suffocated and strangled, 
not only our own person, but himself and every ecclesiastic 
of both kingdoms ; yea, both Churches together, the Galiican 
and the English. For what will not the kings of the earth 
dare against the clergy, under cover of this most wretched 
precedent ? And on what can the Church of Rome rely, when 
it thus deserts and leaves destitute the persons who are making 
a stand in its cause, and contending for it even unto death.' In 
a similar tone is his letter * To all the Cardinals ' written on the 
same occasion. (Ibid. 248-50.) 

' Smooth speeches are not for the wretched, nor guarded 
words for the bitter in soul. May my bitter thoughts be par- 
doned, my wretchedness indulged. It is our belief, most holy 
fathers, that you stand in high places, as God's delegates, to put 
aside injustice, to cut off presumption, to relieve the sorrowing 
priesthood, and stop the way against its persecutors ; to assist 
the oppressed and punish the oppressors. . . . Trust then to 
me, my beloved lords, . . . resume your strength, gird your- 
selves with the Word of the Most High as with a sword. . . . 
This is the Royal way, this is the way that leadeth to life, this 
is the way that you must walk in if ye would follow the footsteps 
of Jesus Christ and the footsteps of His apostles whose vicars 
ye are. It is not by craft, it is not by wise schemes, that the 
Church is to be governed, but by Justice and by Truth. ' 

This remarkable freedom of speech neither implied nor 
was supposed to imply the slightest want of reverence on the 
part of Becket to the Holy See. Pope Alexander received it as 
meekly as Becket himself had received the friendly reproof of 
his faithful cross-bearer, Llewellen. On one occasion he wrote to 
the primate in a tone almost apologetic ; it was towards the close 

262 Notes. 

of that great man's career (ibid. p. 521) : 'Among the mani- 
fold anxieties which the evil of the times brings upon us, the 
labour which you have undergone in defence of the liberty of 
the Church disturbs us not a little ; desiring, as we do, very 
earnestly to assist you, and yet hindered by various and pressing 
reasons from doing so. ... And if it be true that sailors even 
are sometimes so perplexed by changing winds as not to be able 
to determine whether to proceed onward or return to port, no 
wonder or blame can attach to him who steers the vessel of the 
Church, if, in a vast and spacious sea, where creeping things 
innumerable cross his path, and the risk is not of body and 
carnal profit, but of soul and spiritual grace, he is unable to see 
all at once on what side to incline his opinion ; if, in short, dif- 
ferent views arise, according to the difference of men's wishes, 
and he who advances a particular cause disagrees with him who 
consults, and ought to consult, for the good of the whole? 

Becket looked chiefly to a * particular cause, ' his country, in 
which he beheld a process of destruction rapidly going on, the 
moral consequences of which threatened to continue, and to 
advance in evil, even after the political oppression which had 
engendered them had been redressed. He writes accord- 
ingly : * ' But your Holiness counsels me to bear with patience 
meanwhile. And do you not observe, O Father, what this 
meanwhile may bring about, to the injury of the Church and 
of your Holiness's reputation? Meanwhile he applies to his 
own purposes the revenues of the vacant abbeys and bishoprics, 
and will not suffer pastors to be ordained there. . . . Meanwhile 
who is to take charge of the Sheep of Christ,' &c. 

And, seeing, is self-judged, and sees no longer, p. 149. 

Readers of the higher poetry will hardly need to be re- 
minded of a passage in ' The Dream of Gerontius, ' by which 

1 'The Life and Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Can- 
terbury/ by John Morris, Canon of Northampton. 

Notes. 263 

this line was probably suggested. (See * Verses on Various 
Occasions,' p. 336. Burns, Gates, and Co.) 

A whisper stirs 
That instruments consenting to that deed, p. 169. 

It has been affirmed that the Pope was induced by John of 
Oxford to grant to the Archbishop of York permission to crown 
young Prince Henry, despite the acknowledged rights of Can- 
terbury. If he had done so, the Archbishop and those bishops 
who acted with him at that coronation must, notwithstanding, 
since they acknowledged his power to cancel the ancient right of 
Canterbury, have equally acknowledged his power to cancel his 
own concession, and to reaffirm that right. Considering how 
the Pope had been deceived by John of Oxford when he super- 
seded Becket's Legantine authority, it might have been not 
beyond the skill of the famous ' Swearer ' to have, for a, time, 
deceived him again. A letter or bull, professing to come from 
the Pope, exists among the Cottonian MSS., permitting the 
Archbishop of York to crown the Prince. Mr. Berington, in 
his 'History of Henry II.' (vol. ii. appendix ii.), denies its 
authenticity, assigning six reasons for doing so. They are 
certainly grave reasons ; whether they are conclusive it is not for 
me to say. The supposition most favourable to Roger of York 
and the other two bishops would be one not very probable, but 
perhaps not impossible, viz. that the letters sent by the Pope, 
prohibiting the course which they subsequently adopted, failed 
to reach them, though issued three times the English ports 
being then strictly guarded and failed without connivance on 
their part. 

The King of France I sought him out at Sens, p. 170. 

The account given by Canon Morris of the interview between 
Becket and the two kings at Montmirail includes much that 

264 Notes. 

is characteristic : * Before the conference began, St. Thomas 
was surrounded by his friends, who, almost unanimously, tried 
to induce him to make his submission to King Henry abso- 
lutely, adding no condition or clause, and leaving all the 
matter in dispute to the king's generosity. . . . Herbert of 
Bosham managed to thrust himself in amongst the crowd of 
great people to whisper a warning to the saint that, if he 
omitted the clause "saving God's honour" now, he would be 
sure afterwards to repent it as bitterly as he had done the 
omission of the former clause in EnglancJ. There was not 
time for him to answer by more than a look when they were 
in the presence of the kings.' Henry addressed Louis. 
* This speech produced a great effect. Some people called 
out, "The king humbles himself enough." The Archbishop 
was silent for a while, when Louis said, in a way which de- 
lighted the friends of the King of England, " My Lord Arch- 
bishop, do you want to be more than a saint ? or better than 
Peter? Why do you doubt? Peace is at hand." . . . The 
majority even of his own followers were led away by the current 
feeling, and were jealous of losing the restoration to their 
homes, which had seemed just within their grasp. As they 
were riding away after the conference the horse of one of them 
named Henry de Hoctune, who was riding just before the 
Archbishop, stumbled, on which the rider called out, loud 
enough for the saint to hear, " Go on, saving the honour of God, 
and of holy Church, and of my Order." Here again the Arch- 
bishop, much as he was pained, did not speak. 1 The poor 
never forsook him. ' As they went, people asked who it was 
that was going by ; and when they heard that it was the Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury, they pointed him out to one another, 
saying, * ' That is the Archbishop who yesterday would not deny 
God or neglect his honour for the sake of the kings." Soon 
after all was changed. King Louis discovered that Henry had 
deceived him ; and one of the Papal envoys, Bernard of Gram- 
mont, said to Herbert, "I would rather have my foot cut off 

Notes. 265 

than that your lord the Archbishop should have made peace at 
that Conference, as I and all the others advised him.'' 71 

May it please your Highness plainly to declare 
If you confirm that sentence, p. 181. 

The suspension of the bishops who assisted at the young 
prince's coronation has sometimes been mistaken for a new act 
of hostility on the part of Becket against the king, and as 
the cause of Henry's outbreak the immediate though unin- 
tended occasion of the Archbishop's murder. This view is 
negatived by historic facts. The king had consented to that 
suspension at Freitval. ' * ' As for those who up to this time 
have betrayed the interests of both of us, I will, with God's help, 
answer them as traitors deserve. 1 ..." That Henry expressly 
and publicly consented to the punishment of the bishops, who 
had merely executed his will, is perfectly certain ; but as it is a 
point of the very greatest consequence, since the anger that led to 
the martyrdom was excited by the course here agreed to by the 
king himself, and as just before his death St. Thomas solemnly 
reminded Fitz-Urse of this very consent, it will be well to insert 
the words of another witness. "I was present," writes Theo- 
bald, Earl of Blois, to the Pope, "when the King of England 
received the Archbishop of Canterbury with every sign of peace 
and goodwill. . . . Complaint was then made of the bishops 
who had dared to place the new king on the throne, against 
the right and honour of the Church of Canterbury ; and the king 
gave him free and lawful power over them, that at your Holiness' s 
pleasure, or at his, sentence might be pronounced against them. 
Those things I saw and heard ; and I am ready to attest and 
confirm them by an oath, or in whatever other mode you may 
prefer." ' 2 Herbert of Bosham makes a similar statement. 

The same fact was adverted to as a matter of notoriety by the 

1 'The Life of St. Thomas of Canterbury,' by Canon Morris, pp. 245-52. 
a Ibid. pp. 287-8. 


266 Notes. 

Archbishop himself when Fitz-Urse and the other three knights 
intruded themselves into his presence in his palace just before 
the murder. ' 

Henry had 1 long before seen his bishops under severer 
sentences than that of suspension ; and Becket, far from having 
originated the last sentences against them,, had used his influence 
with the Pope to mitigate their force. Henry had better excuse 
for his disastrous storm of passion. * The Archbishop [on his 
way to the young king] was accompanied by five mounted 
soldiers as an escort, on account of the unsafe state of the roads. 
It was reported to King Henry that he was marching about 
England with a great army, besieging the towns, and intending 
to drive the young king out of the country.' 2 

' The three prelates . . . threw themselves at his feet, im- 
ploring his justice against the primate, and his clemency for 
themselves,, for his clergy, and for his kingdom. He had 
abused the king's indulgence, they said, adding falsely ; that he 
had excommunicated, not themselves only, but all those who 
were present at the prince's coronation. "Then, by God's 
eyes," said Henry in a rage, "he has excommunicated me/' 
They proceeded to say, with equal truth, that, escorted by 
an armed band of soldiers, he was gone to the young king, 
purposing to enter his castles' (vol. i. p. 288, Berington's 
* History'). His reference is Vita, c. 8, n, Gerv. He thus 
describes the deception practised on the young king : 'They 
[the three prelates] before their departure, despatched mes- 
sengers to the young king, by malicious, insinuations to per- 
suade him that it was the archbishop's intention to deprive-- 
him of his throne (vol. i. p. 286). The reference is Vita", c. 
5, 6, 7 ; Ep. 64, 73. 

The Pope hath passed the sentence, p. 2O2. 
An interesting letter is given by Mr. H. Froude ('History/ 

1 'The Life of St. Thomas of Canterbury,' by Canon Morris, p. 320. 
a Ibid. pp. 307-8. 

Notes. 267 

p. 33), written by Becket to the nun Iclonea, when placing in 
her charge the sentence which she was to deliver into the hand of 
the Archbishop of York. 

And wake a slumbering realm, p. 205. 

Or. Lingard thus records the consequences of Becket's 
death : 'The moment of his death was the triumph of his 
cause. . . . The advocates of the Customs were silenced. 
Those who had been eager to condemn were now the foremost 
to applaud his conduct ; and his bitterest foes sought to remove 
from themselves the odium of having been his persecutors. 
The cause of the Church again flourished ; its liberties seemed 
to derive new life and additional vigour from the blood of the 
champion ' ( ' Hist, of England, ' vol. ii. p. 83) . 

I deemed his Censures dealt, ' errante clave, ' p. 234. 

Richard de Luci ' founded the Abbey of Lesnes in Kent, in 
honour of the martyr [Becket] and became a canon there after 
his resignation' (Professor Stubbs's 'Constitutional Hist.,' 
vol. i. p. 469). 






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